William Roscoe Thayer > Theodore Roosevelt > XX. World Honors
William Roscoe Thayer (1859–1923). Theodore Roosevelt. 1919.
XX. World Honors
WHAT to do with ex-Presidents is a problem which worries those happy Americans who have nothing else to worry over. They think of an ex-President as of a sacred white elephant, who must not work, although he has probably too little money to keep him alive in proper ease and dignity. In fact, however, these gentlemen have managed, at least during the past half-century, to sink back into the civilian mass from which they emerged without suffering want themselves or dimming the lustre which radiates from the office. Roosevelt little thought that in quitting the Presidency he was not going into political obscurity.   1
  Roosevelt had two objects in view when he left the White House. He sought long and complete rest, and to place himself beyond the reach of politicians. In fairness, he wished to give Mr. Taft a free field, which would hardly have been possible if Roosevelt had remained in Washington or New York, where politicians might have had access to him.   2
  Accordingly, he planned to hunt big game in Africa for a year, and in order to have a definite purpose, which might give his expedition lasting usefulness, he arranged to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. His second son, Kermit, then twenty years of age, besides several naturalists and hunters, accompanied him. His expedition sailed from New York on March 23d, touched at the Azores and at Gibraltar, where the English Commander showed him the fortifications, and transshipped at Naples into an East-African liner. He found his stateroom filled with flowers sent by his admiring friend, Kaiser William II, with a telegram of effusive greeting, and with messages and tokens from minor potentates. More important to him than these tributes, however, was the presence of Frederick C. Selous, the most famous hunter of big game in Africa, who joined the ship and proved a congenial fellow passenger. They reached Mombasa on April 23rd, and after the caravan had been made ready, they started for the interior.   3
  We need not follow in detail the year which Roosevelt and his party spent in his African hunting. The railroad took them to Lake Victoria Nyanza, but they stopped at many places on the way, and made long excursions into the country. Then from the Lake they proceeded to the Albert Nyanza and steamed down the Nile to Gondokoro, which they reached on February 26, 1910. On March 14th at Khartoum, where Mrs. Roosevelt and their daughter Ethel awaited them, Roosevelt emerged into civilization again. He and Kermit had shot 512 beasts and birds, of which they kept about a dozen for trophies, the rest going to the Smithsonian Institution and to the museums. A few of their specimens were unique, and the total product of the expedition was the most important which had ever reached America from Africa.   4
  After spending a few days in visiting Omdurman and other scenes connected with the British conquest of the Mahdists, less than a dozen years before, the Roosevelts went down the river to Cairo, where the ex-President addressed the Egyptian students. These were the backbone of the so-called Nationalist Party, which aimed at driving out the British and had killed the Prime Minister a month before. They warned Roosevelt that if he dared to touch on this subject he, too, would be assassinated. But such threats did not move him then or ever. Roosevelt reproved them point-blank for killing Boutros Pasha, and told them that a party which sought freedom must show its capacity for living by law and order, before it could expect to deserve freedom.   5
  From Egypt, Roosevelt crossed to Naples, and then began what must be described as a triumphal progress through Central and Western Europe. Only General Grant, after his Presidency, had made a similar tour, but he did not excite a tenth of the popular interest and enthusiasm which Roosevelt excited. Although Grant had the prestige of being the successful general of the most tremendous war ever fought in America, he had nothing picturesque or magnetic in his personality. The peasants in the remote regions had heard of Roosevelt; persons of every class in the cities knew about him a little more definitely; and all were keen to see him. Except Garibaldi, no modern ever set multitudes on fire as Roosevelt did, and Garibaldi was the hero of a much narrower sphere and had the advantage of being the hero of the then downtrodden masses. Roosevelt, on the other hand, belonged to the ruling class in America, had served nearly eight years as President of the United States, and was equally the popular idol without class distinction. And he had just come from a very remarkable exploit, having led his scientific and hunting expedition for twelve months through the perils and hardships of tropical Africa. We Americans may well thrill with satisfaction to remember that it was this most typical of Americans who received the honors and homage of the world precisely because he was most typically American and strikingly individual.   6
  Before he reached Italy on his way back, he had invitations from most of the sovereigns of Europe to visit them, and universities and learned bodies requested him to address them. At Rome, as guest of King Victor Emanuel II, he received ovations of the exuberant and throbbing kind, which only the Italians can give. But here also occurred what might have been, but for his common sense and courage, a hitch in his triumphal progress. The intriguers of the Vatican, always on the alert to edify the Roman Catholics in the United States, thought they saw a chance to exalt themselves and humble the Protestants by stipulating that Colonel Roosevelt, who had accepted an invitation to call upon the Pope, should not visit any Protestant organization while he was in that city. Some time before, Vice-President Fairbanks had incensed Cardinal Merry del Val, the Papal Secretary, and his group, by remarks at the Methodist College in Rome. Here was a dazzling opportunity for not only getting even, but for coming out victorious. If the Vatican schemers could force Colonel Roosevelt, who, at the moment, was the greatest figure in the world, to obey their orders, they might exult in the sight of all the nations. Should he balk, he would draw down upon himself a hostile Catholic vote at home. Probably the good-natured Pope himself understood little about the intrigue and took little part in it, for Pius X was rather a kindly and a genuinely pious pontiff. But Cardinal Merry del Val, apt pupil of the Jesuits, made an egregious blunder if he expected to catch Theodore Roosevelt in a Papal trap. The Rector of the American Catholic College in Rome wrote: “‘The Holy Father will be delighted to grant audience to Mr. Roosevelt on April 5th, and hopes nothing will arise to prevent it, such as the much-regretted incident which made the reception of Mr. Fairbanks impossible.’ Roosevelt replied to our Ambassador as follows: ‘On the other hand, I in my turn must decline to have any stipulations made or submit to any conditions which in any way limit my freedom of conduct.’ To this the Vatican replied. through our Ambassador: ‘In view of the circumstances for which neither His Holiness nor Mr. Roosevelt is responsible, an audience could not occur except on the understanding expressed in the former message.’” 1   7
  Ex-President Roosevelt did not, by calling upon the Pope, furnish Cardinal Merry del Val with cause to gloat. A good while afterward in talking over the matter with me, Roosevelt dismissed it with “No self-respecting American could allow his actions or his going and coming to be dictated to him by any Pope or King.” That, to him, was so self-evident a fact that it required no discussion; and the American people, including probably a large majority of Roman Catholics, agreed with him.   8
  From Rome he went to Austria, to Vienna first, where the aged Emperor, Francis Joseph, welcomed him; and then to Budapest, where the Hungarians, eager for their independence, shouted themselves hoarse at sight of the representative of American independence. Wherever he went the masses in the cities crowded round him and the people in the country flocked to cheer him as he passed. Since Norway had conferred on him the Nobel Peace Prize after the Russo-Japanese War, he journeyed to Christiania to pay his respects to the Nobel Committee, and there he delivered an address on the conditions necessary for a universal peace in which he foreshadowed many of the terms which have since been preached by the advocates of a League of Nations. In Berlin, the Kaiser received him with ostentatious friendliness. He addressed him as “Friend Roosevelt.” Since the Colonel was not a monarch the Kaiser could not address him as “Brother” or as “Cousin,” and the word “Friend “disguised whatever condescension he may have felt. There was a grand military review of twelve thousand troops, which the Kaiser and his “Friend” inspected, and he took care to inform Roosevelt that he was the first civilian to whom this honor had ever been paid. An Imperial photographer made snapshots of the Colonel and the Kaiser, and these were subsequently given to the Colonel with superscriptions and comments written by the Kaiser on the negatives. Roosevelt’s impression of his Imperial host was, on the whole, favorable. I do not think he regarded him as very solid, personally, but he recognized the results of the power which William’s inherited position as Emperor conferred on him.   9
  Paris did not fall behind any of the other European capitals in the enthusiasm of its welcome. There, Roosevelt was received in solemn session by the Sorbonne, before which he spoke on citizenship in a Republic, and, with prophetic vision, he warned against the seductions of phrase-makers as among the insidious dangers to which Republics were exposed.   10
  His most conspicuous triumph, however, was in England. On May 6th, King Edward VII died, and President Taft appointed Colonel Roosevelt special envoy, to represent the United States at the royal funeral. This drew together crowned heads from all parts of Europe, so that at one of the State functions at Buckingham Palace there were no fewer than thirteen monarchs at table. The Colonel stayed at Dorchester House with the American Ambassador, Mr. Whitelaw Reid, and was beset by calls and invitations from the crowned personages. I have heard him give a most amusing account of that experience, but it is too soon to repeat it. Then, as always, he could tell a bore at sight, and the bore could not deceive him by any disguise of ermine cloak or Imperial title. The German Kaiser seems to have taken pains to pose as the preferred intimate of “Friend Roosevelt,” but the “Friend” remained unwaveringly Democratic. One day William telephoned to ask Roosevelt to lunch with him, but the Colonel diplomatically pleaded a sore throat, and declined. At another time when the Kaiser wished him to come and chat, Roosevelt replied that he would with pleasure, but that he had only twenty minutes at the Kaiser’s disposal, as he had already arranged to call on Mrs. Humphry Ward at three-thirty. These reminiscences may seem trifling, unless you take them as illustrating the truly Democratic simplicity with which the First Citizen of the American Republic met the scions of the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns on equal terms as gentleman with gentlemen.   11
  Some of his backbiters and revilers at home whispered that his head was turned by all these pageants and courtesies of kings, and that he regretted that our system provided for no monarch. This afforded him infinite amusement. “Think of it!” he said to me after his return. “They even say that I want to be a prince myself! Not I! I’ve seen too many of them! Do you know what a prince is? He’s a cross between Ward McAllister and Vice-President Fairbanks. How can any one suppose I should like to be that?” It may be necessary to inform the later generation that Mr. Ward McAllister was by profession a decayed gentleman in New York City who achieved fame by compiling a list of the Four Hundred persons whom he condescended to regard as belonging to New York Society. Vice-President Fairbanks was an Indiana politician, tall and thin and oppressively taciturn, who seemed to be stricken dumb by the weight of an immemorial ancestry or by the sense of his own importance; and who was not less cold than dumb, so that irreverent jokers reported that persons might freeze to death in his presence if they came too near or stayed too long.   12
  All this was only the froth on the stream of Roosevelt’s experience in England. He took deep enjoyment in meeting the statesmen and the authors and the learned men there. The City of London bestowed the freedom of the city upon him. The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford gave him their highest honorary degrees. At the London Guildhall he made a memorable address, in which he warned the British nation to see to it that the grievances of the Egyptian people were not allowed to fester. Critics at the moment chided this advice as an exhibition of bad taste; an intrusion, if not an impertinence, on the part of a foreigner. They did not know, however, that before speaking, Roosevelt submitted his remarks to high officers in the Government and had their approval; for apparently they were well pleased that this burning topic should be brought under discussion by means of Roosevelt’s warning.   13
  At Cambridge University he exhorted the students not to be satisfied with a life of sterile athleticism. “I never was an athlete,” said he, “although I have always led an outdoor life, and have accomplished something in it, simply because my theory is that almost any man can do a great deal, if he will, by getting the utmost possible service out of the qualities that he actually possesses…. The average man who is successful—the average statesman, the average public servant, the average soldier, who wins what we call great success—is not a genius. He is a man who has merely the ordinary qualities that he shares with his fellows, but who has developed those ordinary qualities to a more than ordinary degree.”   14
  The culmination of his addresses abroad was his Romanes Lecture, delivered at the Convocation at Oxford University on June 7, 1910. Lord Curzon, the Chancellor, presided. Roosevelt took for his theme, “Biological Analogies in History,” a subject which his lifelong interest in natural history and his considerable reading in scientific theory made appropriate. He afterwards said that in order not to commit shocking blunders he consulted freely his old friend Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, head of the Museum of Natural History in New York City, but the substance and ideas were unquestionably his own.   15
  Dr. Henry Goudy, “the public orator” at Cambridge, in a Presentation Speech, eulogized Roosevelt’s manifold activities and achievements, declaring, among other things, that he had “acquired a title to be ranked with his great predecessor Abraham Lincoln—‘of whom one conquered slavery, and the other corruption.’” Lord Curzon addressed him as, “peer of the most august kings, queller of wars, destroyer of monsters wherever found, yet the most human of mankind, deeming nothing indifferent to you, not even the blackest of the black.”   16
  This cluster of foreign addresses is not the least remarkable of Roosevelt’s intellectual feats. No doubt among those who listened to him in each place there were carping critics, scholars who did not find his words scholarly enough, dilettanti made tepid by over-culture, intellectual cormorants made heavy by too much information, who found no novelty in what he said, and were insensible to the rush and freshness of his style. But in spite of these he did plant in each audience thoughts which they remembered, and he touched upon a range of interests which no other man then alive could have made to seem equally vital.   17
  On June 18th Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt reached New York. All the way up the harbor from Sandy Hook, he was escorted by a vast concourse of vessels, large and small, tugs, steamboats, and battleships. At the Narrows, Fort Wadsworth greeted him with the Presidential salute of twenty-one guns. The revenue-cutter, Androscoggin, took him from the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, on which he had crossed the ocean, and landed him at the Battery. There an immense multitude awaited him. Mayor Gaynor bade him welcome, to which he replied briefly in affectionate words to his fellow countrymen. Then began a triumphal procession up Broadway, and up Fifth Avenue, surpassing any other which New York had seen. No other person in America had ever been so welcomed. The million or more who shouted and cheered and waved, were proud of him because of his great reception in Europe, but they admired him still more for his imperishable work at home, and loved him most of all, because they knew him as their friend and fellow, Theodore Roosevelt, their ideal American. A group of Rough Riders and two regiments of Spanish War Veterans formed his immediate escort, than whom none could have pleased him better.   18
  His head was not turned, but his heart must have overflowed with gratitude.   19
  Later, when the crowds had dispersed, he went into a bookstore, and some one in the street having recognized him, the word passed, and a great crowd cheered him as he came out. Telling his sister of the occurrence, he said, “And they soon will be throwing rotten apples at me!”   20

Note 1. Washburn, 164. [ back ]



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