Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children

THE ATLANTIC’S BOOKSHELF

Books Selected This Month

Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children (Bishop). Theodore Roosevelt (Thayer). The Happy End (Hergesheimer). England and Ireland (Turner). The Remaking of a Mind (De Man). Heritage (West).

Edited by JOSEPH BUCKLIN BISHOP. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1919. 12mo, x+240 pp. Illustrated. $2.00.
BEFORE anything else is said about Colonel Roosevelt’s letters to his children, we must take account of the wonders they contain. America is a toyland to this great showman — a hunting-ground, a playground, a land of good men and good living, of wolf-hunters, warbling vireos, obstacle races in White House corridors, Japanese fighting-men, wonderful pets, — dogs, horses, kittens, lizards, squirrels nested in a bedroom, — strange crimson flowers, huge vessels racing against heavy seas, and creamy oxen crossing Porto Rican streams. In general, life moves strongly, and the keynote is ‘plenty of vigorous excitement.’ It is as if suddenly the world of books had produced a circus show of life, and made it into something that grown-up people will ‘wish to show the children.’
In these letters the great and good man stands as the type of the new Yankeeland. His sheer, single optimism and satisfaction with life are the very spirit of the Western Hemisphere. The clear vision of the world’s development that had come as naturally as breathing to the author of The Winning of the West is here compressed and simplified in his historical bird’s-eye views of Panama and the country of the Mississippi, and in his rousing descriptions of the tropic birds and flowers of the West Indies, of Culebra Cut, of the forests, coasts, and mountains of Porto Rico, and of the plains and foothills of our own West. What could not a boy learn from letters with such passages as this about the Mississippi: —
‘How wonderful in its rapidity of movement has been the history of our country, compared with the history of the old world. For untold ages this river had been flowing through the lonely continent, not very greatly changed since the close of the Pleistocene. During all these myriads of years the prairie and the forest came down to its banks. . . .
‘Then the change came with a rush. Our settlers reached the head-waters of the Ohio, and flat-boats and keel-boats began to go down to the mouth of the Mississippi, and the Indians and the game they followed began their last great march to the west. For ages they had marched back and forth, but from this march there was never to be a return. Then the day of steamboat traffic began, and the growth of the first American cities and states along the river with their strength and their squalor and their raw pride. Then this mighty steamboat traffic passed its zenith and collapsed, and for a generation the river towns have dwindled compared with the towns which took their importance from the growth of the railroads. I think of all this as I pass down the river.’
The volume is indeed full of lessons, not only in geography and history, but in education, politics, and even literature. Once, in private conversation, Colonel Roosevelt remarked to a Professor of Literature astonished at his interest in everything apparently remote from statecraft and amazed at the depth and scope of his reading, that the chief cause of the failure of many a man in Washington was that he could not take his mind for a minute off the game. In this book is perhaps the most complete demonstration of the value of this secret of success. It has lessons of great concern to American children, and lessons of love, cheer, courage, and good sense, of even more concern to all fathers and mothers.
One ventures to predict that very few copies of these letters wall come to boys and girls at Christmas-time unread by Santa Claus. For it is as if Gulliver had come to life, inverted. His travels, for grown-ups, the children love. This book, apparently for children, will find in the soul of every man a spot tender according to the degree of sympathy with which he can envisage a great man’s greater goodness and simplicity of heart. Since Chesterfield, the world has moved.
T. L. H.