Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Brander Matthews (1852–1929)
MORE than one American statesman has also challenged consideration as a man of letters. No one could deny an honorable place in the history of American literature to the authors of the Declaration of Independence, of the two Bunker Hill orations, and of the Gettysburgh address. The many-sidedness of Franklin, even more obvious than that of Jefferson, Webster, or Lincoln, has been made manifest by the fact that he has demanded parallel lives in the ‘American Statesmen’ series and in the series of ‘American Men of Letters,’—pending a third biography whenever there is a series of ‘American Men of Science.’ Yet Franklin was an author only casually and as it were by accident since he never published a book; and the contributions which Jefferson, Webster, and Lincoln made to literature were strictly incidental to their political activities.  1
  Theodore Roosevelt is a statesman who made himself known as a man of letters before he attained to any prominence in public life and who has attained to the highest position in the nation without relaxing his interest in letters and without ceasing to write copiously upon a variety of topics wholly apart from politics. Born in 1858 and graduated from Harvard in 1880, he had begun a ‘Naval History of the War of 1812’ while still a student in college. This first book was completed and published in 1882. As a result of two or three years’ residence in Dakota, he was able to write a record of the ‘Hunting Trips of a Ranchman,’ which appeared in 1885, to be followed in 1888 by a kindred volume, ‘Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail,’ and in 1893 by a third book entitled ‘The Wilderness Hunter.’ The writing of this series of out-of-door books did not interfere with the young author’s serious study of American political history. He contributed to the ‘American Statesmen’ series a biography of Thomas H. Benton (1886) and a biography of Gouverneur Morris (1887); and for the series of ‘Historic Towns’ he prepared the volume on New York (1890).  2
  His most important book, the work which gave him his solid standing as a historian and which led to his election to the presidency of the American Historical Association, is ‘The Winning of the West.’ The first volume appeared in 1889 and the fourth in 1896. It may be described as a continuation of Parkman’s series of books describing the struggle of France and England for the control of North America. Parkman ended his labors with his account of the victory of Wolfe over Montcalm, which decided the conflict, and at the moment of this decision the English colonists were already beginning to thrust themselves across the Alleghanies and to possess themselves of unexplored territory remote from the fringe of settlements along the Atlantic coast, within which they had been content to confine themselves for the century and a half that followed the earliest permanent settlements in Virginia and Massachusetts. The sweep toward the West, continuing even during the dark days of the Revolutionary War, became irresistible in the years following the recognition of the independence of the United States. This steady expansion of the young American nation caused the frontier to be pushed further and further away from the ocean as decade followed decade. And it afforded a superb theme for a young historian who, although born in the East, had made himself intimate with the West in the course of his residence and of his travels beyond the Mississippi.  3
  It was this western experience and this familiarity with the men of the frontier which—at the outbreak of the Spanish War—instigated the raising of a regiment composed of men used to outdoor life and hardened by its vicissitudes. At the conclusion of this brief war, Colonel Roosevelt wrote a history of this organization, a history which was necessarily more or less autobiographical,—‘The Rough Riders’ published in 1898. Two years later he sent forth his sympathetic study of the career of the masterful Oliver Cromwell. In 1897 he had collected into a volume a group of his essays and addresses, and in 1900 he made a second similar collection, each of them taking its title from that of the opening paper; the earlier was called ‘American Ideals,’ and the latter, ‘The Strenuous Life.’ This last was immediately translated into the leading European languages.  4
  The ‘Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter,’ issued in 1902, may be regarded as a fourth volume in the series begun nearly a score of years earlier with ‘Hunting Trips.’ And closely akin to these are the two ampler tomes describing the author’s explorations and investigations as a formal naturalist, ‘African Game Trails’ (1910), and ‘Through the Brazilian Wilderness’ (1914). Between the journeys of which accounts are given in these two books, there had been published in 1913 a volume of ‘Passages from a Possible Autobiography,’ and a volume of addresses and essays, ‘History as Literature.’ If several collections of more purely journalistic papers may be passed over as possessing merely an immediate and therefore ephemeral importance, this leaves for record here only another selection from Colonel Roosevelt’s occasional writings, ‘A Booklover’s Holiday in the Open’ (1916), a selection of papers as characteristic of its author’s two-sided interest in literature indoors and in life outdoors as its title aptly indicates.  5
  When the list of Colonel Roosevelt’s books is surveyed as a whole, this two-sidedness discloses itself as multifariousness. There are half a dozen volumes of adventure in different quarters of the globe. There are three biographies and at least two volumes which are autobiographical. There are three historical works of which one is in four volumes and is not yet complete. And there are four collections of addresses and essays with a remarkable wide range of topic, political and sociological, historical and biographical, critical and literary. These many volumes vary in value as they differ in theme; but they are all of them interesting, each in its own kind; they are none of them perfunctory or careless or casual; they always represent the keen effort and the full energy of the writer; and they unfailingly disclose the flavor of his intense personality. In whatever department of literature he may have chosen to express himself it is always himself that he expresses. He does his own thinking in his own fashion; and he says what he has to say in his own way, with due regard to the traditions but with no effort to suppress his own individuality. Rather is it that individuality which vitalizes the various books and fills them with tingling life. And they are as sincere in workmanship as they are honest in intent.  6
  Colonel Roosevelt’s writing is nourished by omnivorous reading, in all literatures, ancient and modern. These incessant adventures among books have been undertaken for the sheer enjoyment they have given, for delight in the craftsmanship of the many writers, and for pleasure in the information they may supply about nature and about human nature. As a result, his outlook on literature is as broad as his outlook on life; and his retentive memory has been stored with knowledge ever alive because it has been acquired by active interest, not merely accumulated by arid labor for a set purpose.  7
  He has possessed himself of the poets as well as of the masters of prose; and as a result his vocabulary is as varied as it is vivacious. It is perhaps to the poets rather than to the prose masters that he owes the picturesqueness of his own style,—the certainty of the noun, the propriety of the adjective, the vigor of the verb. He possesses the faculty of inventing felicitous phrases, which exactly express his thought and which are so picturesque and so useful that they immediately pass into current speech, used by thousands who ignore or are ignorant of their authorship. No statesman of our time and no living man of letters (except Mr. Rudyard Kipling), has minted more of these familiar quotations, full weight and stamped with his image and superscription. No one can mistake the meaning of Colonel Roosevelt’s advocacy of the “strenuous life” or of his insistence on the “square deal”; and when he denounced certain “malefactors of great wealth” as “undesirable citizens” those thus designated made haste to don the cap that fitted them.  8
  Yet it is not by his miscellaneous writings, by his essays and addresses, his biographies and autobiographies that Colonel Roosevelt may best claim a prominent position among men of letters. These miscellaneous writings are characteristic and they are interesting, each in its own way and in its own degree; but they are not so important nor so likely to be enduring as the boldly built and solidly constructed history of ‘The Winning of the West,’ quite as characteristic as its author’s lesser efforts and quite as interesting, but having a larger scope and a deeper purpose. To describe what he has accomplished in these four successive volumes it may be well to borrow from his own ‘History as Literature,’ his presidential address to the American Historical Association, in which he set forth the qualities of a true historian. ‘The Winning of the West’ is a historical work which possesses literary quality and which is therefore “a permanent contribution to the sum of man’s wisdom, enjoyment, and inspiration,” because its writer has added “wisdom to knowledge and the gift of expression to the gift of imagination.”  9
  ‘The Winning of the West’ was dedicated to Francis Parkman; and probably its author would be proud to be regarded as the loyal follower of that great writer. John Fiske declared that of all American historians, Parkman “is the most deeply and peculiarly American, yet he is at the same time the broadest and most cosmopolitan,” and his vivid account of “the struggle between the machine-like socialistic despotism of New France and the free and spontaneous political vitality of New England” is to be placed “among the world’s few masterpieces of the highest rank, along with the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Gibbon.”  10
  In a cordial appreciation, written in 1892 while Parkman was yet alive, the author of ‘The Winning of the West’ asserted that the author of ‘France and England in North America’ had
        “shown all the qualities of the historian, capacity for wide and deep research, accuracy in details combined with power to subordinate these details to the general effect, a keen perception of the essential underlying causes and results, and the mastery of a singularly clear, pure, and strong style.”
  Parkman had a great subject and he “treated it with knowledge, with impartiality, and with enthusiasm.” All these qualities, justly ascribed to Parkman, are in large measure to be ascribed also to his eulogist, whose main subject, less important than Parkman’s, he treats with equal knowledge, impartiality, and enthusiasm.  12
  Elsewhere in this same criticism the younger author praised the elder for having acquainted himself by hard experience with the life and character of the men of the border, white and red; Parkman knew “the Indian character and the character of the white frontiersman by personal observation as well as by books; neither knowledge by itself being of much value to the historian.” This double equipment was as necessary for the chronicler of the spread of the English-speaking stock westward across the continent as it was for the narrator of the preceding struggle which had resulted in the possibility of this expansion. In the preface to the first volume of ‘The Winning of the West,’ the author explains that for a number of years he had spent most of his time on the frontier, “and had lived and worked like any other frontiersman.” And the point of resemblance between his life and that led by the men on the earlier frontier, further east, a century before, were “numerous and striking.”  13
  The historian needs two qualifications; neither of them is frequent; and they are very rarely found united. He must be, first of all, a man of scientific integrity, indefatigably conscientious in the search for the facts, and austerely honest in his dealing with these facts. Then, secondly, he must be a man of letters, an artist in structure and in style, with keen zest and untiring joy in the proper presentation of the results of his research. And thirdly he ought to be a moralist able to disclose the ethical value of the events he has been elucidating. The author of ‘The Winning of the West’ emphatically withstands the application of this simple test.  14
  He has gone to the sources, sparing no toil which could increase his store of documents; but he is never content to be a mere analyst, a collector of facts, willing to weigh evidence carefully but unwilling to draw the inferences by which only can these facts be illuminated. He has the artist’s delight in the selection of the fact of real importance and in the suppression of the non-essential. He does not neglect the details, but he makes these contribute to the larger portrayal of the whole; and he never lets the single trees prevent us from seeing the forest. With an intimate understanding of the frontier as a place and of its inhabitants as conditioned by it, he has the more abidingly needful sympathy with the frontier as a state of mind. He has a fine feeling for the relative values of the several parts of his work and he is able to relate them in due proportion and to bind them together harmoniously. He is a born story-teller with a swift eye for the salient episode and for the outstanding character.  15
  He has the unerring vision which pierces behind the event and spies out its significance, unimportant as it might seem. And while he is vivid and picturesque, while he is setting forth strange happenings and portraying highly colored specimens of humanity, it is with the finer meaning of his history that he is ever preoccupied, with its value to us now, a century after these stalwart adventurers have faded from the memory of men. He is writing history for its own sake, no doubt; but he has also the alert moral sense and the interpreting imagination which enable him at the same time to write history for our sakes also.  16
  BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE.—In addition to his prominence in American oratory and literature, Theodore Roosevelt has a long record of public service and of political distinction. From 1882 to 1884 he was a member of the New York State Legislature, and then a delegate to the Republican National Convention. After being a candidate for Mayor of New York City in 1886, he acted as United States Civil Service Commissioner from 1889 to 1895, after which he served for two years as president of the New York Board of Police Commissioners.  17
  After this service to the State and to the city of New York, Roosevelt became Assistant-Secretary of the Navy, but, on the outbreak of the Spanish-American war in 1898, he resigned his position and, with Surgeon (afterwards Major-General) Leonard Wood, organized the first United States Cavalry, since known as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders,” with whom he rendered distinguished service in Cuba, notably at Las Guasimas.  18
  On his return his political career began again. For one year he was governor of New York; on November 4th, 1900, he was elected Vice-President of the United States, and on the death of William McKinley on September 14th, 1901, succeeded to the presidency, to which he was subsequently elected on November 8th, 1904, by the largest popular majority known. In 1912 as candidate of the Progressive Party he ran against Woodrow Wilson.  19
  Roosevelt’s energy and force have made him known throughout the world. He represented the United States at the funeral of King Edward VII.; he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; he has been a contributing editor of The Outlook; he has headed a party of exploration in South America, where the Brazilian river “Rio Teodoro” was named in his honor; and he has withstood the fierce light of criticism that beats upon any public figure in America. His home at Oyster Bay, Long Island, is almost as well-known as The White House. With tongue, with pen, and in action he has so expressed himself and so served his people that he is entitled to rank as a representative and great American.  20

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.