by Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1921. 8vo, 365 pp. Illustrated. $3.00.. New York:
IF a strong desire for self-expression be a healthy instinct in a normal human being, then we must, regard Theodore Roosevelt as one of the most fortunate of men; for few celebrities who ever lived reached his degree of self-expression. He revealed himself, not only through his conduct and deeds, but in innumerable articles, in twenty or more printed volumes, — of which one was an autobiography, — and in various letters. Friends have written his biography; enemies have belabored him with censure; cartoonists have ridiculed; poets have crowned him with laurel; and, as the Athenians, weary of hearing Aristides called the Just, banished him, so some of his critics would have banished Roosevelt, if they had been able. Even the children of America came to know him through the ‘Teddy Bear,’ the plaything which popularized him in the nurseries of the Continent.
This mass of Roosevelt material has already had a unique addition in the volume of Roosevolt’s Letters to His Children; and now his sister, Mrs. Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, brings another most precious contribution. She was perfectly adapted for her work. As she was only two or three years younger than Theodore, the brother and sister were brought up together through childhood and youth, and they were intensely sympathetic with each other. Later, when Theodore became a distinguished public man, at Albany, or at Washington, he used her home, first at No. 422 Madison Avenue and later at No. 9 East 63d Street, for many of his meetings and private conferences with other public men whom he desired to see in New York. He trusted both her discretion and her judgment. He found in her sense of humor the counterpart to his own. She possessed a large capacity for hero-worship, and as she recognized the heroic qualities in him, her affection for the brother blended naturally with admiration of and devotion to the hero.
This combination of traits and talents in Mrs. Robinson assuredly fitted her lo write thus intimately of Theodore Roosevelt: but besides her adequate knowledge of the subject, (lie fact that she writes delightfully, with real charm, enhances her portrait as the varnish which Titian used enhanced his.
For one characteristic of hers, which shines on every page, we cannot be too grateful. This is her frankness, her sincerity. Official collections of letters, or official biographies, which omit, or gloss over, or furbish, can never take the place of this. Less than this cannot be thought of in any lifelike account of Theodore Roosevelt. During the past twenty years a great change has come over the art of biography. We are no longer satisfied with the old conventional patterns, which biographers reproduced to satiety. We demand to see evidence that the subject actually lived, that he was human. No doubt, some of the practitioners of the art have mistakenly resorted to scandal, in order to attain verisimilitude; but such aberrations do not contradict the fact that the old ideals of biography are obsolescent, and unlikely to revive,
I emphasize this point because it justifies us in believing that Theodore Roosevelt’s essential character cannot be denatured for posterity. Mrs. Robinson’s book alone would prevent that. Had George Washington had a brother to write about him, as she has written about Theodore, the burlesque Washington drawn by Weems would never have fooled Americans for two generations into believing that that travesty was the real ‘ Father of His Country.’
But the readers of Mrs. Robinson’s reminiscences of Roosevelt will, for the most part, hurry from chapter to chapter for the pure enjoyment of reading: and they will hardly stop to analyze the bases of her charm. Nevertheless, some of her readers will certainly perceive that she has added a memorable volume to the small number of excellent American memoirs.
WILLIAM ROSCOE THAYER.