Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). An Autobiography. 1913.
IX OUTDOORS AND INDOORS
THERE are men who love out-of-doors who yet never open a book; and other men who love books but to whom the great book of nature is a sealed volume, and the lines written therein blurred and illegible. Nevertheless among those men whom I have known the love of books and the love of outdoors, in their highest expressions, have usually gone hand in hand. It is an affectation for the man who is praising outdoors to sneer at books. Usually the keenest appreciation of what is seen in nature is to be found in those who have also profited by the hoarded and recorded wisdom of their fellow-men. Love of outdoor life, love of simple and hardy pastimes, can be gratified by men and women who do not possess large means, and who work hard; and so can love of good booksnot of good bindings and of first editions, excellent enough in their way but sheer luxuriesI mean love of reading books, owning them if possible of course, but, if that is not possible, getting them from a circulating library.
Sagamore Hill takes its name from the old Sagamore Mohannis, who, as chief of his little tribe, signed away his rights to the land two centuries and a half ago. The house stands right on the top of the hill, separated by fields and belts of woodland from all other houses, and looks out over the bay and the Sound. We see the sun go down beyond long reaches of land and of water. Many birds dwell in the trees round the house or in the pastures and the woods near by, and of course in winter gulls, loons, and wild fowl frequent the waters of the bay and the Sound. We love all the seasons; the snows and bare woods of winter; the rush of growing things and the blossom-spray of spring; the yellow grain, the ripening fruits and tasseled corn, and the deep, leafy shades that are heralded by "the green dance of summer"; and the sharp fall winds that tear the brilliant banners with which the trees greet the dying year.
The Sound is always lovely. In the summer nights we watch it from the piazza, and see the lights of the tall Fall River boats as they steam steadily by. Now and then we spend a day on it, the two of us together in the light rowing skiff, or perhaps with one of the boys to pull an extra pair of oars; we land for lunch at noon under wind-beaten oaks on the edge of a low bluff, or among the wild plum bushes on a spit of white sand, while the sails of the coasting schooners gleam in the sunlight, and the tolling of the bell-buoy comes landward across the waters.
Long Island is not as rich in flowers as the valley of the Hudson. Yet there are many. Early in April there is one hillside near us which glows like a tender flame with the white of the bloodroot. About the same time we find the shy mayflower, the trailing arbutus; and although we rarely pick wild flowers, one member of the household always plucks a little bunch of mayflowers to send to a friend working in Panama, whose soul hungers for the Northern spring. Then there are shadblow and delicate anemones, about the time of the cherry blossoms; the brief glory of the apple orchards follows; and then the thronging dogwoods fill the forests with their radiance; and so flowers follow flowers until the springtime splendor closes with the laurel and the evanescent, honey-sweet locust bloom. The late summer flowers follow, the flaunting lilies, and cardinal flowers, and marshmallows, and pale beach rosemary; and the goldenrod and the asters when the afternoons shorten and we again begin to think of fires in the wide fireplaces.
Most of the birds in our neighborhood are the ordinary home friends of the house and the barn, the wood lot and the pasture; but now and then the species make queer shifts. The cheery quail, alas! are rarely found near us now; and we no longer hear the whip-poor-wills at night. But some birds visit us now which formerly did not. When I was a boy neither the black-throated green warbler nor the purple finch nested around us, nor were bobolinks found in our fields. The black-throated green warbler is now one of our commonest summer warblers; there are plenty of purple finches; and, best of all, the bobolinks are far from infrequent. I had written about these new visitors to John Burroughs, and once when he came out to see me I was able to show them to him.
When I was President, we owned a little house in western Virginia; a delightful house, to us at least, although only a shell of rough boards. We used sometimes to go there in the fall, perhaps at Thanksgiving, and on these occasions we would have quail and rabbits of our own shooting, and once in a while a wild turkey. We also went there in the spring. Of course many of the birds were different from our Long Island friends. There were mocking-birds, the most attractive of all birds, and blue grosbeaks, and cardinals and summer redbirds, instead of scarlet tanagers, and those wonderful singers the Bewick's wrens, and Carolina wrens. All these I was able to show John Burroughs when he came to visit us; although, by the way, he did not appreciate as much as we did one set of inmates of the cottagethe flying squirrels. We loved having the flying squirrels, father and mother and half-grown young, in their nest among the rafters; and at night we slept so soundly that we did not in the least mind the wild gambols of the little fellows through the rooms, even when, as sometimes happened, they would swoop down to the bed and scuttle across it.
One April I went to Yellowstone Park, when the snow was still very deep, and I took John Burroughs with me. I wished to show him the big game of the Park, the wild creatures that have become so astonishingly tame and tolerant of human presence. In the Yellowstone the animals seem always to behave as one wishes them to! It is always possible to see the sheep and deer and antelope, and also the great herds of elk, which are shyer than the smaller beasts. In April we found the elk weak after the short commons and hard living of winter. Once without much difficulty I regularly rounded up a big band of them, so that John Burroughs could look at them. I do not think, however, that he cared to see them as much as I did. The birds interested him more, especially a tiny owl the size of a robin which we saw perched on the top of a tree in mid-afternoon entirely uninfluenced by the sun and making a queer noise like a cork being pulled from a bottle. I was rather ashamed to find how much better his eyes were than mine in seeing the birds and grasping their differences.
When wolf-hunting in Texas, and when bear-hunting in Louisiana and Mississippi, I was not only enthralled by the sport, but also by the strange new birds and other creatures, and the trees and flowers I had not known before. By the way, there was one feast at the White House which stands above all others in my memoryeven above the time when I lured Joel Chandler Harris thither for a night, a deed in which to triumph, as all who knew that inveterately shy recluse will testify. This was "the bear-hunters' dinner." I had been treated so kindly by my friends on these hunts, and they were such fine fellows, men whom I was so proud to think of as Americans, that I set my heart on having them at a hunters' dinner at the White House. One December I succeeded; there were twenty or thirty of them, all told, as good hunters, as daring riders, as first-class citizens as could be found anywhere; no finer set of guests ever sat at meat in the White House; and among other game on the table was a black bear, itself contributed by one of these same guests.
When I first visited California, it was my good fortune to see the "big trees," the Sequoias, and then to travel down into the Yosemite, with John Muir. Of course of all people in the world he was the one with whom it was best worth while thus to see the Yosemite. He told me that when Emerson came to California he tried to get him to come out and camp with him, for that was the only way in which to see at their best the majesty and charm of the Sierras. But at the time Emerson was getting old and could not go. John Muir met me with a couple of packers and two mules to carry our tent, bedding, and food for a three days' trip. The first night was clear, and we lay down in the darkening aisles of the great Sequoia grove. The majestic trunks, beautiful in color and in symmetry, rose round us like the pillars of a mightier cathedral than ever was conceived even by the fervor of the Middle Ages. Hermit thrushes sang beautifully in the evening, and again, with a burst of wonderful music, at dawn. I was interested and a little surprised to find that, unlike John Burroughs, John Muir cared little for birds or bird songs, and knew little about them. The hermit-thrushes meant nothing to him, the trees and the flowers and the cliffs everything. The only birds he noticed or cared for were some that were very conspicuous, such as the water-ouselsalways particular favorites of mine too. The second night we camped in a snow-storm, on the edge of the cañon walls, under the spreading limbs of a grove of mighty silver fir; and next day we went down into the wonderland of the valley itself. I shall always be glad that I was in the Yosemite with John Muir and in the Yellowstone with John Burroughs.
Like most Americans interested in birds and books, I know a good deal about English birds as they appear in books. I know the lark of Shakespeare and Shelley and the Ettrick Shepherd; I know the nightingale of Milton and Keats; I know Wordsworth's cuckoo; I know mavis and merle singing in the merry green wood of the old ballads; I know Jenny Wren and Cock Robin of the nursery books. Therefore I had always much desired to hear the birds in real life; and the opportunity offered in June, 1910, when I spent two or three weeks in England. As I could snatch but a few hours from a very exciting round of pleasures and duties, it was necessary for me to be with some companion who could identify both song and singer. In Sir Edward Grey, a keen lover of outdoor life in all its phases, and a delightful companion, who knows the songs and ways of English birds as very few do know them, I found the best possible guide.
We left London on the morning of June 9, twenty-four hours before I sailed from Southampton. Getting off the train at Basingstoke, we drove to the pretty, smiling valley of the Itchen. Here we tramped for three or four hours, then again drove, this time to the edge of the New Forest, where we first took tea at an inn, and then tramped through the forest to an inn on its other side, at Brockenhurst. At the conclusion of our walk my companion made a list of the birds we had seen, putting an asterisk (*) opposite those which we had heard sing. There were forty-one of the former and twenty-three of the latter, as follows:
The valley of the Itchen is typically the England that we know from novel and story and essay. It is very beautiful in every way, with a rich, civilized, fertile beautythe rapid brook twisting among its reed beds, the rich green of trees and grass, the stately woods, the gardens and fields, the exceedingly picturesque cottages, the great handsome houses standing in their parks. Birds were plentiful; I know but few places in America where one would see such an abundance of individuals, and I was struck by seeing such large birds as coots, water hens, grebes, tufted ducks, pigeons, and peewits. In places in America as thickly settled as the valley of the Itchen, I should not expect to see any like number of birds of this size; but I hope that the efforts of the Audubon societies and kindred organizations will gradually make themselves felt until it becomes a point of honor not only with the American man, but with the American small boy, to shield and protect all forms of harmless wild life. True sportsmen should take the lead in such a movement, for if there is to be any shooting there must be something to shoot; the prime necessity is to keep, and not kill out, even the birds which in legitimate numbers may be shot.
The New Forest is a wild, uninhabited stretch of heath and woodland, many of the trees gnarled and aged, and its very wildness, the lack of cultivation, the ruggedness, made it strongly attractive in my eyes, and suggested my own country. The birds of course were much less plentiful than beside the Itchen.
The bird that most impressed me on my walk was the blackbird. I had already heard nightingales in abundance near Lake Como, and had also listened to larks, but I had never heard either the blackbird, the song thrush, or the blackcap warbler; and while I knew that all three were good singers, I did not know what really beautiful singers they were. Blackbirds were very abundant, and they played a prominent part in the chorus which we heard throughout the day on every hand, though perhaps loudest the following morning at dawn. In its habits and manners the blackbird strikingly resembles our American robin, and indeed looks exactly like a robin, with a yellow bill and coal-black plumage. It hops everywhere over the lawns, just as our robin does, and it lives and nests in the gardens in the same fashion. Its song has a general resemblance to that of our robin, but many of the notes are far more musical, more like those of our wood thrush. Indeed, there were individuals among those we heard certain of whose notes seemed to me almost to equal in point of melody the chimes of the wood thrush; and the highest possible praise for any song-bird is to liken its song to that of the wood thrush or hermit thrush. I certainly do not think that the blackbird has received full justice in the books. I knew that he was a singer, but I really had no idea how fine a singer he was. I suppose one of his troubles has been his name, just as with our own catbird. When he appears in the ballads as the merle, bracketed with his cousin the mavis, the song thrush, it is far easier to recognize him as the master singer that he is. It is a fine thing for England to have such an asset of the countryside, a bird so common, so much in evidence, so fearless, and such a really beautiful singer.
The thrush is a fine singer too, a better singer than our American robin, but to my mind not at the best quite as good as the blackbird at his best; although often I found difficulty in telling the song of one from the song of the other, especially if I only heard two or three notes.
The larks were, of course, exceedingly attractive. It was fascinating to see them spring from the grass, circle upwards, steadily singing and soaring for several minutes, and then return to the point whence they had started. As my companion pointed out, they exactly fulfilled Wordsworth's description; they soared but did not roam. It is quite impossible wholly to differentiate a bird's voice from its habits and surroundings. Although in the lark's song there are occasional musical notes, the song as a whole is not very musical; but it is so joyous, buoyant and unbroken, and uttered under such conditions as fully to entitle the bird to the place he occupies with both poet and prose writer.
The most musical singer we heard was the blackcap warbler. To my ear its song seemed more musical than that of the nightingale. It was astonishingly powerful for so small a bird; in volume and continuity it does not come up to the songs of the thrushes and of certain other birds, but in quality, as an isolated bit of melody, it can hardly be surpassed.
Among the minor singers the robin was noticeable. We all know this pretty little bird from the books, and I was prepared to find him as friendly and attractive as he proved to be, but I had not realized how well he sang. It is not a loud song, but very musical and attractive, and the bird is said to sing practically all through the year. The song of the wren interested me much, because it was not in the least like that of our house wren, but, on the contrary, like that of our winter wren. The theme is the same as the winter wren's, but the song did not seem to me to be as brilliantly musical as that of the tiny singer of the North Woods. The sedge warbler sang in the thick reeds a mocking ventriloquial lay, which reminded me at times of the less pronounced parts of our yellow-breasted chat's song. The cuckoo's cry was singularly attractive and musical, far more so than the rolling, many times repeated, note of our rain-crow.
We did not reach the inn at Brockenhurst until about nine o'clock, just at nightfall, and a few minutes before that we heard a nightjar. It did not sound in the least like either our whip-poor-will or our night-hawk, uttering a long-continued call of one or two syllables, repeated over and over. The chaffinch was very much in evidence, continually chaunting its unimportant little ditty. I was pleased to see the bold, masterful missel thrush, the stormcock as it is often called; but this bird breeds and sings in the early spring, when the weather is still tempestuous, and had long been silent when we saw it. The starlings, rooks, and jackdaws did not sing, and their calls were attractive merely as the calls of our grackles are attractive; and the other birds that we heard sing, though they played their part in the general chorus, were performers of no especial note, like our tree-creepers, pine warblers, and chipping sparrows. The great spring chorus had already begun to subside, but the woods and fields were still vocal with beautiful bird music, the country was very lovely, the inn as comfortable as possible, and the bath and supper very enjoyable after our tramp; and altogether I passed no pleasanter twenty-four hours during my entire European trip.
Ten days later, at Sagamore Hill, I was among my own birds, and was much interested as I listened to and looked at them in remembering the notes and actions of the birds I had seen in England. On the evening of the first day I sat in my rocking-chair on the broad veranda, looking across the Sound towards the glory of the sunset. The thickly grassed hillside sloped down in front of me to a belt of forest from which rose the golden, leisurely chiming of the wood thrushes, chanting their vespers; through the still air came the warble of vireo and tanager; and after nightfall we heard the flight song of an ovenbird from the same belt of timber. Overhead an oriole sang in the weeping elm, now and then breaking his song to scold like an overgrown wren. Song-sparrows and catbirds sang in the shrubbery; one robin had built its nest over the front and one over the back door, and there was a chippy's nest in the wistaria vine by the stoop. During the next twenty-four hours I saw and heard, either right around the house or while walking down to bathe, through the woods, the following forty-two birds:
The birds were still in full song, for on Long Island there is little abatement in the chorus until about the second week of July, when the blossoming of the chestnut trees patches the woodland with frothy greenish-yellow. 1
Our most beautiful singers are the wood thrushes; they sing not only in the early morning but throughout the long hot June afternoons. Sometimes they sing in the trees immediately around the house, and if the air is still we can always hear them from among the tall trees at the foot of the hill. The thrashers sing in the hedgerows beyond the garden, the catbirds everywhere. The catbirds have such an attractive song that it is extremely irritating to know that at any moment they may interrupt it to mew and squeal. The bold, cheery music of the robins always seems typical of the bold, cheery birds themselves. The Baltimore orioles nest in the young elms around the house, and the orchard orioles in the apple trees near the garden and outbuildings. Among the earliest sounds of spring is the cheerful, simple, homely song of the song-sparrow; and in March we also hear the piercing cadence of the meadow-larkto us one of the most attractive of all bird calls. Of late years now and then we hear the rollicking, bubbling melody of the bobolink in the pastures back of the barn; and when the full chorus of these and of many other of the singers of spring is dying down, there are some true hot-weather songsters, such as the brightly hued indigo buntings and thistlefinches. Among the finches one of the most musical and plaintive songs is that of the bush-sparrowI do not know why the books call it field-sparrow, for it does not dwell in the open fields like the vesperfinch, the savannah-sparrow, and grasshopper-sparrow, but among the cedars and bayberry bushes and young locusts in the same places where the prairie warbler is found. Nor is it only the true songs that delight us. We love to hear the flickers call, and we readily pardon any one of their number which, as occasionally happens, is bold enough to wake us in the early morning by drumming on the shingles of the roof. In our ears the red-winged blackbirds have a very attractive note. We love the screaming of the red-tailed hawks as they soar high overhead, and even the calls of the night heron that nest in the tall water maples by one of the wood ponds on our place, and the little green herons that nest beside the salt marsh. It is hard to tell just how much of the attraction in any bird-note lies in the music itself and how much in the associations. This is what makes it so useless to try to compare the bird songs of one country with those of another. A man who is worth anything can no more be entirely impartial in speaking of the bird songs with which from his earliest childhood he has been familiar than he can be entirely impartial in speaking of his own family.
At Sagamore Hill we love a great many thingsbirds and trees and books, and all things beautiful, and horses and rifles and children and hard work and the joy of life. We have great fireplaces, and in them the logs roar and crackle during the long winter evenings. The big piazza is for the hot, still afternoons of summer. As in every house, there are things that appeal to the householder because of their associations, but which would not mean much to others. Naturally, any man who has been President, and filled other positions, accumulates such things, with scant regard to his own personal merits. Perhaps our most cherished possessions are a Remington bronze, "The Bronco Buster," given me by my men when the regiment was mustered out, and a big Tiffany silver vase given to Mrs. Roosevelt by the enlisted men of the battleship Louisiana after we returned from a cruise on her to Panama. It was a real surprise gift, presented to her in the White House, on behalf of the whole crew, by four as strapping man-of-war's-men as ever swung a turret or pointed a twelve-inch gun. The enlisted men of the army I already knew wellof course I knew well the officers of both army and navy. But the enlisted men of the navy I only grew to know well when I was President. On the Louisiana Mrs. Roosevelt and I once dined at the chief petty officers' mess, and on another battleship, the Missouri (when I was in company with Admiral Evans and Captain Cowles), and again on the Sylph and on the Mayflower, we also dined as guests of the crew. When we finished our trip on the Louisiana I made a short speech to the assembled crew, and at its close one of the petty officers, the very picture of what a man-of-war's-man should look like, proposed three cheers for me in terms that struck me as curiously illustrative of America at her best; he said, "Now then, men, three cheers for Theodore Roosevelt, the typical American citizen!" That was the way in which they thought of the American Presidentand a very good way, too. It was an expression that would have come naturally only to men in whom the American principles of government and life were ingrained, just as they were ingrained in the men of my regiment. I need scarcely add, but I will add for the benefit of those who do not know, that this attitude of self-respecting identification of interest and purpose is not only compatible with but can only exist when there is fine and real discipline, as thorough and genuine as the discipline that has always obtained in the most formidable fighting fleets and armies. The discipline and the mutual respect are complementary, not antagonistic. During the Presidency all of us, but especially the children, became close friends with many of the sailor men. The four bearers of the vase to Mrs. Roosevelt were promptly hailed as delightful big brothers by our two smallest boys, who at once took them to see the sights of Washington in the landau"the President's land-ho!" as, with seafaring humor, our guests immediately styled it. Once, after we were in private life again, Mrs. Roosevelt was in a railway station and had some difficulty with her ticket. A fine-looking, quiet man stepped up and asked if he could be of help; he remarked that he had been one of the Mayflower's crew, and knew us well; and in answer to a question explained that he had left the navy in order to study dentistry, and addeda delicious touchthat while thus preparing himself to be a dentist he was earning the necessary money to go on with his studies by practicing the profession of a prize-fighter, being a good man in the ring.
There are various bronzes in the house: Saint-Gaudens's "Puritan," a token from my staff officers when I was Governor; Proctor's cougar, the gift of the Tennis Cabinetwho also gave us a beautiful silver bowl, which is always lovingly pronounced to rhyme with "owl" because that was the pronunciation used at the time of the giving by the valued friend who acted as spokesman for his fellow-members, and who was himself the only non-American member of the said Cabinet. There is a horseman by Macmonnies, and a big bronze vase by Kemys, an adaptation or development of the pottery vases of the Southwestern Indians. Mixed with all of these are gifts from varied sources, ranging from a brazen Buddha sent me by the Dalai Lama and a wonderful psalter from the Emperor Menelik to a priceless ancient Samurai sword, coming from Japan in remembrance of the peace of Portsmouth, and a beautifully inlaid miniature suit of Japanese armor, given me by a favorite hero of mine, Admiral Togo, when he visited Sagamore Hill. There are things from European friends; a mosaic picture of Pope Leo XIII in his garden; a huge, very handsome edition of the Nibelungenlied; a striking miniature of John Hampden from Windsor Castle; editions of Dante, and the campaigns of "Eugenio von Savoy" (another of my heroes, a dead hero this time); a Viking cup; the state sword of a Uganda king; the gold box in which the "freedom of the city of London" was given me; a beautiful head of Abraham Lincoln given me by the French authorities after my speech at the Sorbonne; and many other things from sources as diverse as the Sultan of Turkey and the Dowager Empress of China. Then there are things from home friends: a Polar bear skin from Peary; a Sioux buffalo robe with, on it, painted by some long-dead Sioux artist, the picture story of Custer's fight; a bronze portrait plaque of Joel Chandler Harris; the candlestick used in sealing the Treaty of Portsmouth, sent me by Captain Cameron Winslow; a shoe worn by Dan Patch when he paced a mile in 1.59, sent me by his owner. There is a picture of a bull moose by Carl Rungius, which seems to me as spirited an animal painting as I have ever seen. In the north room, with its tables and mantelpiece and desks and chests made of woods sent from the Philippines by army friends, or by other friends for other reasons; with its bison and wapiti heads; there are three paintings by Marcus Symonds"Where Light and Shadow Meet," "The Porcelain Towers," and "The Seats of the Mighty"; he is dead now, and he had scant recognition while he lived, yet surely he was a great imaginative artist, a wonderful colorist, and a man with a vision more wonderful still. There is one of Lungren's pictures of the Western plains; and a picture of the Grand Canyon; and one by a Scandinavian artist who could see the fierce picturesqueness of workaday Pittsburgh; and sketches of the White House by Sargent and by Hopkinson Smith.
The books are everywhere. There are as many in the north room and in the parloris drawing-room a more appropriate name than parlor?as in the library; the gun-room at the top of the house, which incidentally has the loveliest view of all, contains more books than any of the other rooms; and they are particularly delightful books to browse among, just because they have not much relevance to one another, this being one of the reasons why they are relegated to their present abode. But the books have overflowed into all the other rooms too.
I could not name any principle upon which the books have been gathered. Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover's besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls "the mad pride of intellectuality," taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books. Of course there are books which a man or woman uses as instruments of a professionlaw books, medical books, cookery books, and the like. I am not speaking of these, for they are not properly "books" at all; they come in the category of time-tables, telephone directories, and other useful agencies of civilized life. I am speaking of books that are meant to be read. Personally, granted that these books are decent and healthy, the one test to which I demand that they all submit is that of being interesting. If the book is not interesting to the reader, then in all but an infinitesimal number of cases it gives scant benefit to the reader. Of course any reader ought to cultivate his or her taste so that good books will appeal to it, and that trash won't. But after this point has once been reached, the needs of each reader must be met in a fashion that will appeal to those needs. Personally the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.
Of course each individual is apt to have some special tastes in which he cannot expect that any but a few friends will share. Now, I am very proud of my big-game library. I suppose there must be many big-game libraries in Continental Europe, and possibly in England, more extensive than mine, but I have not happened to come across any such library in this country. Some of the originals go back to the sixteenth century, and there are copies or reproductions of the two or three most famous hunting books of the Middle Ages, such as the Duke of York's translation of Gaston Phoebus, and the queer book of the Emperor Maximilian. It is only very occasionally that I meet any one who cares for any of these books. On the other hand, I expect to find many friends who will turn naturally to some of the old or the new books of poetry or romance or history to which we of the household habitually turn. Let me add that ours is in no sense a collector's library. Each book was procured because some one of the family wished to read it. We could never afford to take overmuch thought for the outsides of books; we were too much interested in their insides.
Now and then I am asked as to "what books a statesman should read," and my answer is, poetry and novelsincluding short stories under the head of novels. I don't mean that he should read only novels and modern poetry. If he cannot also enjoy the Hebrew prophets and the Greek dramatists, he should be sorry. He ought to read interesting books on history and government, and books of science and philosophy; and really good books on these subjects are as enthralling as any fiction ever written in prose or verse. Gibbon and Macaulay, Herodotus, Thucydides and Tacitus, the Heimskringla, Froissart, Joinville and Villehardouin, Parkman and Mahan, Mommsen and Rankewhy! there are scores and scores of solid histories, the best in the world, which are as absorbing as the best of all the novels, and of as permanent value. The same thing is true of Darwin and Huxley and Carlyle and Emerson, and parts of Kant, and of volumes like Sutherland's "Growth of the Moral Instinct," or Acton's Essays and Lounsbury's studieshere again I am not trying to class books together, or measure one by another, or enumerate one in a thousand of those worth reading, but just to indicate that any man or woman of some intelligence and some cultivation can in some line or other of serious thought, scientific or historical or philosophical or economic or governmental, find any number of books which are charming to read, and which in addition give that for which his or her soul hungers. I do not for a minute mean that the statesman ought not to read a great many different books of this character, just as every one else should read them. But, in the final event, the statesman, and the publicist, and the reformer, and the agitator for new things, and the upholder of what is good in old things, all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry.
The room for choice is so limitless that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make catalogues which shall be supposed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sympathy whatever with writing lists of the One Hundred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library. It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books; and if he is to go off for a year or so where he cannot get many books, it is an excellent thing to choose a five-foot library of particular books which in that particular year and on that particular trip he would like to read. But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times; and there is no such thing as a five-foot library which will satisfy the needs of even one particular man on different occasions extending over a number of years. Milton is best for one mood and Pope for another. Because a man likes Whitman or Browning or Lowell he should not feel himself debarred from Tennyson or Kipling or Körner or Heine or the Bard of the Dimbovitza. Tolstoy's novels are good at one time and those of Sienkiewicz at another; and he is fortunate who can relish "Salammbo" and "Tom Brown" and the "Two Admirals" and "Quentin Durward" and "Artemus Ward" and the "Ingoldsby Legends" and "Pickwick" and "Vanity Fair." Why, there are hundreds of books like these, each one of which, if really read, really assimilated, by the person to whom it happens to appeal, will enable that person quite unconsciously to furnish himself with much ammunition which he will find of use in the battle of life.
A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time. But there are tens of thousands of interesting books, and some of them are sealed to some men and some are sealed to others; and some stir the soul at some given point of a man's life and yet convey no message at other times. The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be. He must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like. Yet at the same time he must avoid that most unpleasant of all the indications of puffed-up vanity which consists in treating mere individual, and perhaps unfortunate, idiosyncrasy as a matter of pride. I happen to be devoted to Macbeth, whereas I very seldom read Hamlet (though I like parts of it). Now I am humbly and sincerely conscious that this is a demerit in me and not in Hamlet; and yet it would not do me any good to pretend that I like Hamlet as much as Macbeth when, as a matter of fact, I don't. I am very fond of simple epics and of ballad poetry, from the Nibelungenlied and the Roland song through "Chevy Chase" and "Patrick Spens" and "Twa Corbies" to Scott's poems and Longfellow's "Saga of King Olaf" and "Othere." On the other hand, I don't care to read dramas as a rule; I cannot read them with enjoyment unless they appeal to me very strongly. They must almost be Æschylus or Euripides, Goethe or Molière, in order that I may not feel after finishing them a sense of virtuous pride in having achieved a task. Now I would be the first to deny that even the most delightful old English ballad should be put on a par with any one of scores of dramatic works by authors whom I have not mentioned; I know that each of these dramatists has written what is of more worth than the ballad; only, I enjoy the ballad, and I don't enjoy the drama; and therefore the ballad is better for me, and this fact is not altered by the other fact that my own shortcomings are to blame in the matter. I still read a number of Scott's novels over and over again, whereas if I finish anything by Miss Austen I have a feeling that duty performed is a rainbow to the soul. But other booklovers who are very close kin to me, and whose taste I know to be better than mine, read Miss Austen all the timeand, moreover, they are very kind, and never pity me in too offensive a manner for not reading her myself.
Aside from the masters of literature, there are all kinds of books which one person will find delightful, and which he certainly ought not to surrender just because nobody else is able to find as much in the beloved volume. There is on our book-shelves a little pre-Victorian novel or tale called "The Semi-Attached Couple." It is told with much humor; it is a story of gentlefolk who are really gentlefolk; and to me it is altogether delightful. But outside the members of my own family I have never met a human being who had even heard of it, and I don't suppose I ever shall meet one. I often enjoy a story by some living author so much that I write to tell him soor to tell her so; and at least half the time I regret my action, because it encourages the writer to believe that the public shares my views, and he then finds that the public doesn't.
Books are all very well in their way, and we love them at Sagamore Hill; but children are better than books. Sagamore Hill is one of three neighboring houses in which small cousins spent very happy years of childhood. In the three houses there were at one time sixteen of these small cousins, all told, and once we ranged them in order of size and took their photograph. There are many kinds of success in life worth having. It is exceedingly interesting and attractive to be a successful business man, or railroad man, or farmer, or a successful lawyer or doctor; or a writer, or a President, or a ranchman, or the colonel of a fighting regiment, or to kill grizzly bears and lions. But for unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison. It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone; but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching. And as for a life deliberately devoted to pleasure as an endwhy, the greatest happiness is the happiness that comes as a by-product of striving to do what must be done, even though sorrow is met in the doing. There is a bit of homely philosophy, quoted by Squire Bill Widener, of Widener's Valley, Virginia, which sums up one's duty in life: "Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are."
The country is the place for children, and if not the country, a city small enough so that one can get out into the country. When our own children were little, we were for several winters in Washington, and each Sunday afternoon the whole family spent in Rock Creek Park, which was then very real country indeed. I would drag one of the children's wagons; and when the very smallest pairs of feet grew tired of trudging bravely after us, or of racing on rapturous side trips after flowers and other treasures, the owners would clamber into the wagon. One of these wagons, by the way, a gorgeous red one, had "Express" painted on it in gilt letters, and was known to the younger children as the "'spress" wagon. They evidently associated the color with the term. Once while we were at Sagamore something happened to the cherished "'spress" wagon to the distress of the children, and especially of the child who owned it. Their mother and I were just starting for a drive in the buggy, and we promised the bereaved owner that we would visit a store we knew in East Norwich, a village a few miles away, and bring back another "'spress" wagon. When we reached the store, we found to our dismay that the wagon which we had seen had been sold. We could not bear to return without the promised gift, for we knew that the brains of small persons are much puzzled when their elders seem to break promises. Fortunately, we saw in the store a delightful little bright-red chair and bright-red table, and these we brought home and handed solemnly over to the expectant recipient, explaining that as there unfortunately was not a "'spress" wagon we had brought him back a "'spress" chair and "'spress" table. It worked beautifully! The "'spress" chair and table were received with such rapture that we had to get duplicates for the other small member of the family who was the particular crony of the proprietor of the new treasures.
When their mother and I returned from a row, we would often see the children waiting for us, running like sand-spiders along the beach. They always liked to swim in company with a grown-up of buoyant temperament and inventive mind, and the float offered limitless opportunities for enjoyment while bathing. All dutiful parents know the game of "stage-coach"; each child is given a name, such as the whip, the nigh leader, the off wheeler, the old lady passenger, and, under penalty of paying a forfeit, must get up and turn round when the grown-up, who is improvising a thrilling story, mentions that particular object; and when the word "stage-coach" is mentioned, everybody has to get up and turn round. Well, we used to play stage-coach on the float while in swimming, and instead of tamely getting up and turning round, the child whose turn it was had to plunge overboard. When I mentioned "stage-coach," the water fairly foamed with vigorously kicking little legs; and then there was always a moment of interest while I counted, so as to be sure that the number of heads that came up corresponded with the number of children who had gone down.
No man or woman will ever forget the time when some child lies sick of a disease that threatens its life. Moreover, much less serious sickness is unpleasant enough at the time. Looking back, however, there are elements of comedy in certain of the less serious cases. I well remember one such instance which occurred when we were living in Washington, in a small house, with barely enough room for everybody when all the chinks were filled. Measles descended on the household. In the effort to keep the children that were well and those that were sick apart, their mother and I had to camp out in improvised fashion. When the eldest small boy was getting well, and had recovered his spirits, I slept on a sofa beside his bedthe sofa being so short that my feet projected over anyhow. One afternoon the small boy was given a toy organ by a sympathetic friend. Next morning early I was waked to find the small boy very vivacious and requesting a story. Having drowsily told the story, I said, "Now, father's told you a story, so you amuse yourself and let father go to sleep"; to which the small boy responded most virtuously, "Yes, father will go to sleep and I'll play the organ," which he did, at a distance of two feet from my head. Later his sister, who had just come down with the measles, was put into the same room. The small boy was convalescing, and was engaged in playing on the floor with some tin ships, together with two or three pasteboard monitors and rams of my own manufacture. He was giving a vivid rendering of Farragut at Mobile Bay, from memories of how I had told the story. My pasteboard rams and monitors were fascinatingif a naval architect may be allowed to praise his own workand as property they were equally divided between the little girl and the small boy. The little girl looked on with alert suspicion from the bed, for she was not yet convalescent enough to be allowed down on the floor. The small boy was busily reciting the phases of the fight, which now approached its climax, and the little girl evidently suspected that her monitor was destined to play the part of victim.
When I was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Leonard Wood and I used often to combine forces and take both families of children out to walk, and occasionally some of their playmates. Leonard Wood's son, I found, attributed the paternity of all of those not of his own family to me. Once we were taking the children across Rock Creek on a fallen tree. I was standing on the middle of the log trying to prevent any of the children from falling off, and while making a clutch at one peculiarly active and heedless child I fell off myself. As I emerged from the water I heard the little Wood boy calling frantically to the General: "Oh! oh! The father of all the children fell into the creek!"which made me feel like an uncommonly moist patriarch.
Of course the children took much interest in the trophies I occasionally brought back from my hunts. When I started for my regiment, in '98, the stress of leaving home, which was naturally not pleasant, was somewhat lightened by the next to the youngest boy, whose ideas of what was about to happen were hazy, clasping me round the legs with a beaming smile and saying, "And is my father going to the war? And will he bring me back a bear?" When, some five months later, I returned, of course in my uniform, this little boy was much puzzled as to my identity, although he greeted me affably with "Good afternoon, Colonel." Half an hour later somebody asked him, "Where's father?" to which he responded, "I don't know; but the Colonel is taking a bath."
Of course the children anthropomorphizedif that is the proper termtheir friends of the animal world. Among these friends at one period was the baker's horse, and on a very rainy day I heard the little girl, who was looking out of the window, say, with a melancholy shake of her head, "Oh! there's poor Kraft's horse, all soppin' wet!"
While I was in the White House the youngest boy became an habitué of a small and rather noisome animal shop, and the good-natured owner would occasionally let him take pets home to play with. On one occasion I was holding a conversation with one of the leaders in Congress, Uncle Pete Hepburn, about the Railroad Rate Bill. The children were strictly trained not to interrupt business, but on this particular occasion the little boy's feelings overcame him. He had been loaned a king-snake, which, as all nature-lovers know, is not only a useful but a beautiful snake, very friendly to human beings; and he came rushing home to show the treasure. He was holding it inside his coat, and it contrived to wiggle partly down the sleeve. Uncle Pete Hepburn naturally did not understand the full import of what the little boy was saying to me as he endeavored to wriggle out of his jacket, and kindly started to help himand then jumped back with alacrity as the small boy and the snake both popped out of the jacket.
There could be no healthier and pleasanter place in which to bring up children than in that nook of old-time America around Sagamore Hill. Certainly I never knew small people to have a better time or a better training for their work in after life than the three families of cousins at Sagamore Hill. It was real country, andspeaking from the somewhat detached point of view of the masculine parentI should say there was just the proper mixture of freedom and control in the management of the children. They were never allowed to be disobedient or to shirk lessons or work; and they were encouraged to have all the fun possible. They often went barefoot, especially during the many hours passed in various enthralling pursuits along and in the waters of the bay. They swam, they tramped, they boated, they coasted and skated in winter, they were intimate friends with the cows, chickens, pigs, and other live stock. They had in succession two ponies, General Grant and, when the General's legs became such that he lay down too often and too unexpectedly in the road, a calico pony named Algonquin, who is still living a life of honorable leisure in the stable and in the pasturewhere he has to be picketed, because otherwise he chases the cows. Sedate pony Grant used to draw the cart in which the children went driving when they were very small, the driver being their old nurse Mame, who had held their mother in her arms when she was born, and who was knit to them by a tie as close as any tie of blood. I doubt whether I ever saw Mame really offended with them except once when, out of pure but misunderstood affection, they named a pig after her. They loved pony Grant. Once I saw the then little boy of three hugging pony Grant's fore legs. As he leaned over, his broad straw hat tilted on end, and pony Grant meditatively munched the brim; whereupon the small boy looked up with a wail of anguish, evidently thinking the pony had decided to treat him like a radish.
The children had pets of their own, too, of course. Among them guinea pigs were the stand-bystheir highly unemotional nature fits them for companionship with adoring but over-enthusiastic young masters and mistresses. Then there were flying squirrels, and kangaroo rats, gentle and trustful, and a badger whose temper was short but whose nature was fundamentally friendly. The badger's name was Josiah; the particular little boy whose property he was used to carry him about, clasped firmly around what would have been his waist if he had had any. Inasmuch as when on the ground the badger would play energetic games of tag with the little boy and nip his bare legs, I suggested that it would be uncommonly disagreeable if he took advantage of being held in the little boy's arms to bite his face; but this suggestion was repelled with scorn as an unworthy assault on the character of Josiah. "He bites legs sometimes, but he never bites faces," said the little boy. We also had a young black bear whom the children christened Jonathan Edwards, partly out of compliment to their mother, who was descended from that great Puritan divine, and partly because the bear possessed a temper in which gloom and strength were combined in what the children regarded as Calvinistic proportions. As for the dogs, of course there were many, and during their lives they were intimate and valued family friends, and their deaths were household tragedies. One of them, a large yellow animal of several good breeds and valuable rather because of psychical than physical traits, was named "Susan" by his small owners, in commemoration of another retainer, a white cow; the fact that the cow and the dog were not of the same sex being treated with indifference. Much the most individual of the dogs and the one with the strongest character was Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay dog. He had a masterful temper and a strong sense of both dignity and duty. He would never let the other dogs fight, and he himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it; but he was a murderous animal when he did fight. He was not only exceedingly fond of the water, as was to be expected, but passionately devoted to gunpowder in every form, for he loved firearms and fairly reveled in the Fourth of July celebrationsthe latter being rather hazardous occasions, as the children strongly objected to any "safe and sane" element being injected into them, and had the normal number of close shaves with rockets, Roman candles, and firecrackers.
One of the stand-bys for enjoyment, especially in rainy weather, was the old barn. This had been built nearly a century previously, and was as delightful as only the pleasantest kind of old barn can be. It stood at the meeting-spot of three fences. A favorite amusement used to be an obstacle race when the barn was full of hay. The contestants were timed and were started successively from outside the door. They rushed inside, clambered over or burrowed through the hay, as suited them best, dropped out of a place where a loose board had come off, got over, through, or under the three fences, and raced back to the starting-point. When they were little, their respective fathers were expected also to take part in the obstacle race, and when with the advance of years the fathers finally refused to be contestants, there was a general feeling of pained regret among the children at such a decline in the sporting spirit.
Another famous place for handicap races was Cooper's Bluff, a gigantic sand-bank rising from the edge of the bay, a mile from the house. If the tide was high there was an added thrill, for some of the contestants were sure to run into the water.
As soon as the little boys learned to swim they were allowed to go off by themselves in rowboats and camp out for the night along the Sound. Sometimes I would go along so as to take the smaller children. Once a schooner was wrecked on a point half a dozen miles away. She held together well for a season or two after having been cleared of everything down to the timbers, and this gave us the chance to make camping-out trips in which the girls could also be included, for we put them to sleep in the wreck, while the boys slept on the shore; squaw picnics, the children called them.
My children, when young, went to the public school near us, the little Cove School, as it is called. For nearly thirty years we have given the Christmas tree to the school. Before the gifts are distributed I am expected to make an address, which is always mercifully short, my own children having impressed upon me with frank sincerity the attitude of other children to addresses of this kind on such occasions. There are of course performances by the children themselves, while all of us parents look admiringly on, each sympathizing with his or her particular offspring in the somewhat wooden recital of "Darius Green and his Flying Machine" or "The Mountain and the Squirrel had a Quarrel." But the tree and the gifts make up for all shortcomings.
We had a sleigh for winter; but if, when there was much snow, the whole family desired to go somewhere, we would put the body of the farm wagon on runners and all bundle in together. We always liked snow at Christmas time, and the sleigh-ride down to the church on Christmas eve. One of the hymns always sung at this Christmas eve festival begins, "It's Christmas eve on the river, it's Christmas eve on the bay." All good natives of the village firmly believe that this hymn was written here, and with direct reference to Oyster Bay; although if such were the case the word "river" would have to be taken in a hyperbolic sense, as the nearest approach to a river is the village pond. I used to share this belief myself, until my faith was shaken by a Denver lady who wrote that she had sung that hymn when a child in Michigan, and that at the present time her little Denver babies also loved it, although in their case the river was not represented by even a village pond.
When we were in Washington, the children usually went with their mother to the Episcopal church, while I went to the Dutch Reformed. But if any child misbehaved itself, it was sometimes sent next Sunday to church with me, on the theory that my companionship would have a sedative effectwhich it did, as I and the child walked along with rather constrained politeness, each eying the other with watchful readiness for the unexpected. On one occasion, when the child's conduct fell just short of warranting such extreme measures, his mother, as they were on the point of entering church, concluded a homily by a quotation which showed a certain haziness of memory concerning the marriage and baptismal services: "No, little boy, if this conduct continues, I shall think that you neither love, honor, nor obey me!" However, the culprit was much impressed with a sense of shortcoming as to the obligations he had undertaken; so the result was as satisfactory as if the quotation had been from the right service.
As for the education of the children, there was of course much of it that represented downright hard work and drudgery. There was also much training that came as a by-product and was perhaps almost as valuablenot as a substitute but as an addition. After their supper, the children, when little, would come trotting up to their mother's room to be read to, and it was always a surprise to me to notice the extremely varied reading which interested them, from Howard Pyle's "Robin Hood," Mary Alicia Owen's "Voodoo Tales," and Joel Chandler Harris's "Aaron in the Wild Woods," to "Lycidas" and "King John." If their mother was absent, I would try to act as vice-mothera poor substitute, I fearsuperintending the supper and reading aloud afterwards. The children did not wish me to read the books they desired their mother to read, and I usually took some such book as "Hereward the Wake," or "Guy Mannering," or "The Last of the Mohicans" or else some story about a man-eating tiger, or a man-eating lion, from one of the hunting books in my library. These latter stories were always favorites, and as the authors told them in the first person, my interested auditors grew to know them by the name of the "I" stories, and regarded them as adventures all of which happened to the same individual. When Selous, the African hunter, visited us, I had to get him to tell to the younger children two or three of the stories with which they were already familiar from my reading; and as Selous is a most graphic narrator, and always enters thoroughly into the feeling not only of himself but of the opposing lion or buffalo, my own rendering of the incidents was cast entirely into the shade.
Besides profiting by the more canonical books on education, we profited by certain essays and articles of a less orthodox type. I wish to express my warmest gratitude for such booksnot of avowedly didactic purposeas Laura Richards's books, Josephine Dodge Daskam's "Madness of Philip," Palmer Cox's "Queer People," the melodies of Father Goose and Mother Wild Goose, Flandreau's "Mrs. White's," Myra Kelly's stories of her little East Side pupils, and Michelson's "Madigans." It is well to take duties, and life generally, seriously. It is also well to remember that a sense of humor is a healthy anti-scorbutic to that portentous seriousness which defeats its own purpose.
Occasionally bits of self-education proved of unexpected help to the children in later years. Like other children, they were apt to take to bed with them treasures which they particularly esteemed. One of the boys, just before his sixteenth birthday, went moose hunting with the family doctor, and close personal friend of the entire family, Alexander Lambert. Once night overtook them before they camped, and they had to lie down just where they were. Next morning Dr. Lambert rather enviously congratulated the boy on the fact that stones and roots evidently did not interfere with the soundness of his sleep; to which the boy responded, "Well, Doctor, you see it isn't very long since I used to take fourteen china animals to bed with me every night!"
As the children grew up, Sagamore Hill remained delightful for them. There were picnics and riding parties, there were dances in the north roomsometimes fancy dress dancesand open-air plays on the green tennis court of one of the cousin's houses. The children are no longer children now. Most of them are men and women, working out their own fates in the big world; some in our own land, others across the great oceans or where the Southern Cross blazes in the tropic nights. Some of them have children of their own; some are working at one thing, some at another; in cable ships, in business offices, in factories, in newspaper offices, building steel bridges, bossing gravel trains and steam shovels, or laying tracks and superintending freight traffic. They have had their share of accidents and escapes; as I write, word comes from a far-off land that one of them, whom Seth Bullock used to call "Kim" because he was the friend of all mankind, while bossing a dangerous but necessary steel structural job has had two ribs and two back teeth broken, and is back at work. They have known and they will know joy and sorrow, triumph and temporary defeat. But I believe they are all the better off because of their happy and healthy childhood.
It is impossible to win the great prizes of life without running risks, and the greatest of all prizes are those connected with the home. No father and mother can hope to escape sorrow and anxiety, and there are dreadful moments when death comes very near those we love, even if for the time being it passes by. But life is a great adventure, and the worst of all fears is the fear of living. There are many forms of success, many forms of triumph. But there is no other success that in any shape or way approaches that which is open to most of the many, many men and women who have the right ideals. These are the men and the women who see that it is the intimate and homely things that count most. They are the men and women who have the courage to strive for the happiness which comes only with labor and effort and self-sacrifice, and only to those whose joy in life springs in part from power of work and sense of duty.