Theodore Roosevelt

by Lord Chamwood. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press. 1923. 8vo.xx + 232 pp. $2.50.
EVERYONE who has read Lord Charnwood’s Life of Lincoln has been impatient to read his Life of Roosevelt. This book is rather a study than a history, cumbered with the dry details so necessary to a complete understanding of events, and yet scarcely any of the great occurrences in Roosevelt’s life are left unnoticed. The fact that the book is written by an educated and cultivated Englishman of great literary gifts and of much political experience adds greatly to its value; nor is this diminished by the fact that he never knew the subject of his book, although he confesses to a ‘boyish hero-worship’ for Roosevelt, ‘conceived very long ago,’ and says, ‘If I had been an American, I should have been an item in the Progressive crowd that followed him.’ This does not mean that the author has not been discriminating in treating his subject, for the book bears abundant evidence of the fact that, to use his own language, he was ‘amply briefed with the worst that had been said of Roosevelt.’
His lack of personal acquaintance with Roosevelt though perhaps contributing to a more judicial view, has its disadvantages in making it easy to fall into some errors — not, however, of very great importance. I do not think that any of Roosevelt’s contemporaries in college could truthfully speak of him as ‘shy,’ nor can I accept the quoted description of Roosevelt in the New York Legislature as a ‘blond young man with eyeglasses, English side-whiskers, and Dundreary drawl.’ Blond he was, and he certainly had sidewhiskers, although he was not proud of them and later said, ‘I am glad I shed them early’; but there was certainly nothing of the ‘Dundreary drawl,’ or anything that remotely suggested it
I find all of the principal events in Roosevelt’s life treated with very discriminating judgment. It is perhaps too trifling a matter to mention, but Booker Washington did not lunch with Roosevelt; he dined with him. ‘I was not at luncheon,’ wrote Roosevelt. ‘I asked him to come and take dinner with me that night.’
It is very satisfying to anyone believing as thoroughly as I do in Roosevelt’s complete integrity of purpose, to have so high an authority as Lord Charnwood acquit him of any improper conduct in the acquirement of the Panama Canal territory and to praise him for sending the battle fleet round the world, in the interest of peace.
Lord Charnwood’s conclusion that ‘Roosevelt, with his record and known convictions, could not, with honor, have acted substantially otherwise than he did’ in being a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1912, and the candidate of the Progressives in the Presidential campaign is, I think, as the statement of a conclusion, absolutely true. He might have stated the further fact that Roosevelt believed that two thirds of the rank and file of the Republican party wished him to be a candidate for the nomination; of this the proof is abundant.
I think the author should have made the fact clear that Roosevelt, at the time of his death, had fully regained his great prestige; for that reason, one of the opening sentences seems to me misleading. Speaking of the purpose of the book, the author says: ‘It may arouse more interest in a powerful and noble man whose fate it was for a considerable while to rivet and indeed fatigue the attention of civilized mankind, then to undergo eclipse, and to die when the eclipse was total.’ That Roosevelt underwent eclipse in and after the Progressive campaign is undoubtedly true, but that the eclipse became total is very far from the truth, for at the time of his death he had regained the proud position of primacy which he held at the greatest height of his popularity and influence with his countrymen, and. had he lived, he would again have been elected President.
Roosevelt’s charming autograph letter to Lady Delamere, with which the book closes, is a delightful revelation of his character, and the judgment of posterity might safely rest on that document alone.
An admirable chronology with quotations from Roosevelt’s writings, appropriate to each event, adds greatly to the value of the book.
No intelligent person can fail to be deeply interested, and instructed as well, by Lord Charnwood’s carefully considered and highly intelligent study of one of the most fascinating and greatest men in American history.