The selected letters of Theodore Roosevelt /

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Main Author: Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
Other Authors: Brands, H. W.
Format: Book
Language:English
Published: New York : Cooper Square Press, 2001.
Edition:First Cooper Square Press ed.
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Chapter One Theodore Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City. His paternal grandfather was Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, one of the handful of wealthiest men in New York, and therefore one of the wealthiest men in America. His father, for whom the boy was named, inherited a quarter of the wealth, being one of four sons. Theodore's mother was the former Martha Bulloch, of a Georgia family distinguished politically and otherwise since the Revolutionary War. This marriage of North and South had an important influence on Theodore's life (beyond the obvious one of his birth): Mittie (as family and friends called Martha; her son sometimes called her "Muffie") could not bear for her husband to take up arms against her Confederate kin, so he did not. Although Theodore Junior never criticized his father on this score, those who knew the boy best felt that his later strong interest in soldiering owed at least in part to a desire to prove that Roosevelts were no slackers.     "Teedie," as Theodore was called, had an older sister, Anna (nicknamed Bamie, short for bambina and pronounced "Bammie"; alternatively "Bye" or "Bysie"), a younger brother, Elliot ("Ellie" or "Nell"), and a younger sister, Corinne ("Conie," "Pussie"). Bamie was several years older than the others, who consequently played more among themselves than with her. Numerous Roosevelt cousins and the occasional Bulloch rounded out the landscape of Teedie's childhood.     During his first decade the boy suffered badly from asthma. Nothing afforded consistent relief, but removal from the soot, smoke, and dust of New York City seemed to help. For this reason the family escaped whenever possible--to Oyster Bay on Long Island, among other summer retreats, and on journeys to Europe and beyond for more extended vacations.     Roosevelt eventually outgrew his asthma. To some extent this probably resulted from simple maturation, but it also reflected a concerted campaign of physical exercise. He took up boxing, wrestling, and other competitive sports; he also engaged in most imaginable outdoor diversions. He hiked, swam, climbed, rowed, sailed, ran, rode horses, hunted, and generally made a point--a religion, almost--of challenging his strength and stamina.     Roosevelt's fondness for the outdoor life also revealed a strong interest in natural history. He collected bugs, birds, and larger beasts--at first with fingers, jars, and nets, later with shotgun and rifle. This armed collecting was often indistinguishable from hunting, which became another passion.     Roosevelt's education was eclectic. He learned to read early, and during his years of ill health, reading provided an outlet for his imagination. Travel--a trip to Europe at ten, to the Middle East at fifteen, followed by a six-month stay in Dresden--broadened him further. Wealthy families in those days often hired tutors for their children; in Roosevelt's case, a Harvard graduate named Arthur Cutler prepared the young man for college, and helped persuade him to choose Harvard.     Roosevelt entered Harvard two months before his eighteenth birthday. He quickly became enchanted with his new friends, whom he described admiringly in letters home. He was a good student, but not a standout. Although he enjoyed himself immensely, he gave little indication of special social or political gifts, beyond that which characterized him better than any other: an unquenchable zest for living.     An event of Roosevelt's second year at college briefly challenged that zest. His father developed cancer and died. The death cost Roosevelt both his life model and his best friend, and cast a dark, if temporary, shadow over the young man.     A side effect of his father's passing was Roosevelt's financial independence. As he inherited his share of the family money, the young man enjoyed himself more than ever, becoming quite the gent on campus. Whether this had anything to do with his falling madly in love for the first time is difficult to say. Friends and family had long linked him with Edith Carow, Corinne's best friend. But in Boston another girl, Alice Lee, captured his heart. Following an energetic pursuit he in turn captured hers, and the two were wed not long after his graduation. Their honeymoon took them to Europe, where he showed her what he had learned on previous visits, climbed the Matterhorn, and reflected on what a fortunate young man he was. April 30, 1868. New York To Theodore Roosevelt, Senior My Dear Father     I received your letter yesterday. Your letter was more exciting than Mother's. I have a request to ask of you, will you do it? I hope you will, if you will it will figure greatly in my museum. You know what supple jack's are do you not? Pleas get one for Ellie and two for me. Ask your friend to let you cut off the tiger-cat's tail and get some long moss and have it mated together. One of the supple jack's (I am talking of mine now) must be about as thick as your thumb and finger. The other must be as thick as your thumb. The one which is as thick as your finger and thumb must be four feet long, and the other must be three feet long. One of my mice got crushed. It was the mouse I liked best though it was a common mouse. It's name was Brownie. Nothing particular has happened since you went away for I cannot go out in the country like you can. The trees and the vine on our piazza are buding and the grass is green as can be and no one would dream that it was winter so short a time ago. All send love to all of you.     Yours loveingly January 1, 1870. Sorrento To Edith Kermit Carow My Dear Eidie     We came from Naples today. I have recieved your interesting letter and reply to it on paper recieved on Christmas. Yesterday we made the ascent of Mt. Vesuvius. It was snow covered which heightened our enjoyment. We went first in caraiges for a long while. We then got out and mounted ponies. We mounted now pretty steadily. At first we walked but after a while Papa, Ellie and I galloped ahead with two guides and one strange gentleman. These guides were the only ones mounted. We galloped along untill we came to a gulley coated with ice on which the horses walked with 2 legs on one side and 2 legs on the other side. We got to a house where we dismounted to wait for the others and as Conie came up she gave me a great big snowball on the side. I would have thrown another at her but we had to mount and Ellie and I galloped ahead till we came to the place where we got off our horses. I made a snowball and as Conie came up hit her. We then began the ascent of snow covered Mt. Vesuvius. I went first with one guide with a strap in which I put my hands. One place where the side was steeper than any alp I have been on the guide and I fell. We recovered ourselves right away. Our Alpine stocks went down farther and our guide had to go down to get them. I got up to near the top we went inside of a wall where the snow ceased and it was quite warm. We then went on untill we came to a small hole through which we saw a red flame inside the mountain. I put my alpine stock in and it caught fire right away. The smoke nearly suffacated us. We then went on and saw a larger hole through which I could fall if I liked. We put some pebbles down and they came up with pretty good force. We here sat down to lunch. We ate some of the eggs boiled in Vesuvius sand. Ellie and I played with some soildiers and then we began the decent. This was on the opposite side of the mountain. I was the last, then Mama with Papa on one and a guide on the other side of her and then the rest. We went down the side in loose dirt in which I sunk up to my knees. The decent was verry steep. Mama was so exausted she could hardly walk. When we got to the bottom we mounted our horses and went along a miserable road. There were places where the men who were on foot could hardly walk so it was verry hard for the horses. We then drove to the hotel. But now goodby.     Evere your loving friend, January 26, 1873. Near Kom Ombos, Egypt To Anna Bulloch Gracie Dear Aunt Annie,     My right hand having recovered from the imaginary atack from which it did not suffer, I proceed to thank you for your kind present, which very much delighted me. We are now on the Nile and have been on that great and mysterious river for over a month. I think I have never enjoyed myself so much as in this month. There has always been something to do, for we could always fall back upon shooting when everything else fails us. And then we had those splendid and grand old ruins to see, and one of them will stock you with thoughts for a month. The templ that I enjoyed most was Karnak. We saw it by moonlight. I never was impressed by anything so much. To wander among those great columns under the same moon that had looked down on them for thousands of years was awe-inspiring; it gave rise to thoughts of the ineffable, the unuterable; thoughts which you can not express, which can not be uttered, which can not be answered untill after The Great Sleep. Feb. 9th     I have had great enjoyment from the shooting here, as I have procured between one and two hundred skins. I expect to procure some more in Syria. Inform Emlen of this. As you are probably aware Father presented me on Christmas with a double barrelled breech loading shot gun, which I never move on shore without, excepting on sundays. The largest bird I have yet killed is a Crane which I shot as it rose from a lagoon near Thebes.     The sporting is injurious to my trousers. Here is a picture of a pair. [sketch]     Now that I am on the subject of dress I may as well mention that the dress of the inhabitants up to ten years of age is--nothing. After that they put on a shirt descended from some remote ancestor and never take it off till the day of their death.     Mother is recovering from an attack of indegestion, but the rest are all well and send love to you and our friends, in which I join sincerely, and remain     Your Most Affectionate Nephew June 15, 1873. Dresden To Theodore Roosevelt, Senior Dear Father,     Last week has been quite full of novelties. Mother stayed here untill yesterday (Saturday) when she went away, at the same time that Corinne moved, bag and baggage over to here to spend the summer. She sleeps in the room with Miss Anna and is not as yet a bit homesick. Last Thursday Anna, Miss Anna Minkvitz, Miss Lina Minkvitz, Elliot and I went out on an excursion, I with a butterfly net, and a case for beetles. We went first of all by boat for an hour and a half, then got off an visited an castle from which we had a beautiful view, and where I got several specimens This afternoon we will go to Aunt Lucy's. This morning we were at the German Reformed Church. The service was very like the Presbyterian. I did not understand much of the Sermon. The German is getting on very well and the French teacher says that if I knew the tenses of the verbs I would have a very good knowledge of the French Language. I can read it just and understand it almost as well as English, and in writing do not make many mistakes in the mere spelling, but am bad in constructing the sentences.     We (Johnie, Ellie, Maud, Corinne and I) have a little club which meets once a week and for which we write pieces. Corinne has "come out strong" in the poetry line.     The boxing gloves are a source of great amusement to us. When ever Johnie comes to see us we have an hours boxing or so. Each round takes one to two minutes.     The best round yet was one yesterday between Johnie and I. I shall describe it briefly. After some striking and warding, I got Johnie into a corner, when he sprung out. We each warded off a right hand blow and brough in a left hander. His took effect behind my ear, and for a minute I saw stars and reeled back to the centre of the room, while Johnie had had his nose and upper lip mashed together and been driven back against the door. I was so weak however that I was driven across the room, simply warding off blows, but then I almost disabled his left arm, and drove him back to the middle where some sharp boxing occurred. I got in one on his forehead which raised a bump, but my eye was made black and blue. At this minute "Up" was called and we had to seperate. Elliott can box better than either of us as he was a winter at a boxing school If you offered rewards for bloody noses you would spend a fortune on me alone. All send love. I send love to all. Tell Aunt Lizzy and Aunt Annie that I will write to them today.     Your Aff. Son June 20, 1875. Oyster Bay To Anna Roosevelt Dear Bamie,     At present I am writing in a rather smelly room, as the fresh skins of six night herons are reposing on the table beside me; the said night herons being the product of yesterdays expedition to Loyd's (how do you spell the name?) neck. Elliot and I rowed over there in his little rowboat, although it was pretty rough. We found my old boat that we lost last year,--which alone would have amply (repayed) repaid (!) us for our row.     My wretched horse has not yet recovered, but in two or three days I hope to be able to ride him. Elliots and Fathers saddle horses are also a little knocked up, but the rest are in fine condition.     Dr. Swan gave us a very good but rather highflown sermon today. Cousin Corneil was in the qhire choir (I do'n't know what has got into; I can't spell the simplest word), and fell sound asleep with his head on the railing.     Your Aff. Brother September 29, 1876. Cambridge To Martha Bulloch Roosevelt Darling Motherling,     When I arrived here on Wednsday night I found a fire burning in the grate, and the room looking just as cosy and comfortable as it could look. The table is almost too handsome, and I do not know whether to admire most the curtains, the paper or the carpet. What would I have done without Bamie! I have placed your photograph on the mantelpiece, where I can always see Motherling, the Babbit, and my "Garrulous Uncle." I do not begin work until Monday, when I shall start with seven or eight hours a day. I rise at 7.15, attend prayers at 7.45 and at 8 take breakfast at common's, where the food is very fair. We have lunch at half past twelve, and dinner at half past five.     Please to send on in the valise, as soon as possible, with the paper and inkstand, my skates. If I can borrow a bag, I intend to spend next Sunday with Mr Minot, who absolutely called on me the day after I arrived! With best love to all, I remain     Your Loving Son October 22, 1876. Cambridge To Theodore Roosevelt, Senior Dearest Father     Your letter with the slip of paper containing an account of your speech has only just come to hand. Was Mr Cutlers letter ever so kind? I have also received a letter from Uncle Jimmie Bulloch, which was so sweet and touching that it really almost made me feel like crying. I enclose it to you. I have appreciated greatly the numbers of letters I have received from home and have appreciated still more their contents. I do not think there is a fellow in College who has a family that love him as much as you all do me, and I am sure that there is no one who has a Father who is also his best and most intimate friend, as you are mine. I have kept the first letter you wrote me and shall do my best to deserve your trust. I do not find it nearly so hard as I expected not to drink and smoke, many of the fellows backing me up. For example, out of the eleven other boys at the table where I am, no less than seven do not smoke and four drink nothing stronger than beer.     I wish you would send in a petition for me to attend the Congregational church here. I do not intend to wait until Christmas before taking a mission class, but shall go into some such work as soon as I get settled at the Church.     My expenses have been very heavy hitherto, with paying my room rent in advance, buying my clothing, etc., but at the worst I will not have to draw upon you till about Christmass time, and I may not have to do it then.     With best love to all I am,     Your Loving Son     P.S. Send back Uncle Jimmie's letter when you have finished. November 19, 1876. Cambridge To Martha Bulloch Roosevelt Darling Motherling     I shall spend Thanksgiving day with you, coming on Wednsday night. I had hoped to be also able to stay over Friday and Saturday, but owing to examinations occurring at that time I shall have to leave on Friday morning, and even then shall be obliged to cut a recitation. It will be perfectly lovely to see you all again. Although I have enjoyed myself greatly here, very much more, even, than I had expected, yet I do not think I have ever appreciated more the sweetness of home. I have not been atall homesick however, except when I was a little under the weather. I have been in beautiful health, and I do not think I shall have any difficulty atall on that score: except possibly with my eyes, although these seem alright now.     On Friday afternoon I went down to New Haven with seventy or eighty of the rest of the boys to see our foot ball team play the Yale men; in which contest I am sorry to say we were beaten, principally because our opponents played very foul. We stayed at the New Haven house, and were in rather close quarters: I roomed with a sophmore named Pat Grant. My Yale friends, and especially Johny Weeks, were very polite to me and showed me all the principal sights. I am very glad I am not a Yale freshman; the hazing there is pretty bad. The fellows too seem to be a much more scrubby set than ours.     Your Loving Son     P.S. Thank Babbit for sending me letters so regularly. December 14, 1876. Cambridge To Corinne Roosevelt Darling Pussie     I ought to have written you long ago, but I am now having examinations all the time, and am so occupied in studying up for them that I have very little time to myself,--and you know how long it takes me to write a letter. I have had a very monotonous life since I left you, the only excitement being the dancing class which is quite pleasant. Quite a number of my acquaintances will be in New York for part of the vacation, and as I wish to introduce some of them to my swell little sister, I may as well describe a few of my chief friends--principally my table companions. Tom Nickerson is the one who started our table. He is quite handsome with a truly remarkable black moustache. At first he gives one the impression of being effeminate, but is not a bit so in reality, being one of our best football players.     Bob Bacon is the handsomest man in the class, and is as pleasant as he is handsome. He is only sixteen; but is at least as large as Emlen. The two Hoopers are both very pleasant; one of them is really a man, being over twenty one, and acts and feels like one; the other is a great, good-natured awkward boy of eighteen. Three of the best fellows I know here are the three "Harry's," Shaw, Chapin and Jackson.     They are really good fellows and pretty fair students; although I doubt if "dat high-toned pussy-cat" will appreciate them as much as she will some of my other companions. I do not know many New York fellows that I like very much. Pellew and Welling (two of my dig friends) are very nice, and both from New York.     I have just received your postal card. I should like a party very much, if it is perfectly convenient. I should prefer not having it till towards the end of Christmas week as then many of my friends will be on. Will it not be splendid to have dear old John Elliot spend Christmas with us!     Yesterday (Dec 16th) I spent in getting Christmas presents. I did not know what Bamie wished and so got her a pretty edition of Bryants poems. I hope it will please her. I bought most of my presents at Brigs china store.     Ask Bob Clarkson to the party. I come home sometime next Saturday.     Your Loving Brother February 11, 1877. Cambridge To Theodore Roosevelt, Senior, and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt Dear Father and Mother,     I am going to write such a long, chatty letter that I think it shall be to both of you together. But first a word to Father: not only am I not subsisting on husks, but, to carry out the simile, I still have a good deal of (potted) veal left from the calves so liberally killed for my benefit at Christmas. On the first of next month, however, I shall get you to send me on a hundred dollars, as I told you. Perhaps you would like me to describe completely one day of college life; so I shall take last Monday. At half past seven my scout, having made the fire and blacked the boots calls me, and I get round to breakfast at eight. Only a few of the boys are at breakfast, most having spent the night in Boston. Our quarters now are nice and sunny, and the room is prettily papered and ornamented. For breakfast we have tea or coffee, hot biscuits, toast, chops or beef steak, and buckwheat cakes. After breakfast I study till ten, when the mail arrives and is eagerly inspected. From eleven to twelve there is a latin recitation with a meek-eyed Professor, who calls me Mr. Ruseé-felt (hardly any one can get my name correctly, except as Rosy). Then I go over to the gymnasium, where I have a set-to with the gloves with "General" Lister, the boxing master--for I am training to box among the lightweights in the approaching match for the championship of Harvard. Then comes lunch, at which all the boys are assembled in an obstreperously joyful condition; a state of mind which brings on a free fight, to the detriment of Harry Jackson, who, with a dutch cheese and some coffee cups is put under the table; which proceeding calls forth dire threats of expulsion from Mrs Morgan. Afterwards studying and recitations took up the time till halfpast four; as I was then going home, suddenly I heard "Hi, Ted! Catch!" and a base ball whizzed by me. Our two "babies," Bob Bacon and Arthur Hooper, were playing ball behind one of the buildings. So I stayed and watched them, until the ball went through a window and a proctor started out to inquire--when we abruptly seperated. That evening I took dinner with Mr and Mrs Tudor, and had a very pleasant homelike time. I like both of them very much. Ask Bamie why she never thanked her for the handkerchiefs. When I returned I studied for an hour, and then, it being halfpast ten, put on my slippers, which are as comfortable as they are pretty, drew the rocking chair up to the fire, and spent the next half hour in toasting my feet and reading Lamb.     Usually there is more study and less play than this, but I generally manage to have my evenings free, except for perhaps an hours work, and there is always something to do; if we do'n't go in to Boston there may be a whist club or coffee party going on. I do not go often to the Theatre, as I do'n't care for it, and it might hurt my eyes. On Friday evening I usually go to the dancing class.     Yesterday (Saturday) I went in town in the afternoon to pay several party calls--among them one on Miss Madeleine Mixter who unfortunately was out. I dined with one of my friends, and in the evening went round to the Andrews where there was quite a little party; and where I had a very pleasant time. I have lately met a very sweet girl, Miss Elsie Burnett, whose brother owns the Deerfoot Farm. I think you know him. (Continues...) Excerpted from The Selected Letters of Theodore Roosevelt by . Copyright © 2001 by H. W. Brands. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.