Thursday, June 14, 2012
My favorite Nonfiction Author
Found is probably not the correct word to use. I probably decided the first time I read some of his works or works about him. Near the end of the last account of a portion of his life I came across a quote that has stuck with me and I can’t get it out of my mind—it continues to roam around in there (lots of room available for roaming you realize) and will not exit. It actually woke me up in the middle of the night last night.
Now there’s a couple of what most would classify as fiction writers that I admire for their nonfiction work. The two that come quickest to mind are Mark Twain and Jack London. A great deal of both their work is actually nonfiction disguised as fiction. Nobody reading the works would have believed otherwise.
But, for my money you can not get any better observations of the people and the world they inhabit than those recorded by Theodore Roosevelt. I was taken aback by his phraseology and the real look at those he came into contact with and wrote about.
I offer you these examples (with references):
Roosevelt writing on Leonard Wood, originally his immediate commander in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders): “This was an army surgeon, Dr. Leonard Wood. He had served in General Miles’ inconceivably harassing campaigns against the Apaches, where he displayed such courage that he won that most coveted of distinctions—the Medal of Honor,…the qualities of entire manliness with entire uprightness and cleanliness of character.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 2)
Two of the young Cherokee recruits came to me with a most kindly letter from one of the ladies who had been teaching in the academy from which they were about to graduate … One was on the Academy football team and the other in the glee club. Both were fine young fellows. The football player now lies buried with the other dead who fell in the fight at San Juan. The singer was brought to death’s door by fever, but recovered and came back to his home.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 13)
“we had abundance of men who were utterly unmoved by any antic a horse might commit.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 19)
“The tone of the officers’ mess was very high. Every one seemed to realize that he had undertaken most serious work. They all earnestly wished for a chance to distinguish themselves, and fully appreciated that they ran the risk not merely of death, but of what was infinitely worse—namely, failure at the crisis to perform duty well; and they strove earnestly so to train themselves, and the men under them, as to minimize the possibility of such disgrace.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 24)
Theodore Roosevelt of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry
“No outsider can appreciate the bitterness of the disappointment. … the hardest and most disagreeable duty was to stay. Credit should go with the performance of duty, and not with what is very often the accident of glory.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 31)
“No man was allowed to drop out to help the wounded. … but war is a grim game” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 51)
Waking the morning of the battle he had waited his entire life for, Roosevelt wrote: “It was a very lovely morning, the sky of cloudless blue, while the level shimmering rays from the just-risen sun brought into fine relief the splendid palms which here and there towered above the lower growth. The lofty and beautiful mountains hemmed in the Santiago plain, making it an amphitheatre for the battle.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 65)
Detailing his unsupported charge up the Kettle Hill and toward the San Juan blockhouse, Roosevelt wrote of his crowded hour: “I jumped over the wire fence in front of us and started at the double; but as a matter of fact, the troopers were so excited, what with shooting and being shot, and shouting and cheering, that they did not hear, or did not heed me; and after running about a hundred yards I found I had only five men along with me. Bullets were ripping the grass all around us…” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 76)
1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) Regimental Toast: “The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.” Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 69)
Roosevelt writing on Captain William O.(Bucky) O’Neill at Santiago as the regiment was taking Spanish fire: “As O’Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said: “Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.” O’Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, “Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.” … As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness.” Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 69)
In an argument with Congressman James E. Watson, the House republican Whip, President Roosevelt, (semi mobile on crutches) meeting to discuss the strike ramifications should the United Mine Workers walk out in October of 1902 and questioned on the Constitution and the seizing of private property “grabbed Watson by the shoulder and shouted, “The Constitution was made for the people and not the people for the Constitution.”” - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 165)
On the Monroe Doctrine and Germany, Roosevelt said (of the big stick policy): “power, and the willingness and readiness to use it” would make Germany understand the Monroe Doctrine fully. - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 184)
Continuing on the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt told Sir George Otto Trevelyan, British Diplomat in May 1904: “I had much rather be a real President for three years and a half, than a figurehead for seven years and a half.” - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 327)
White House Portrait
Roosevelt wrote on his discussions with E. H. Harriman, an American Railroad executive: “It tires me to talk to rich men. You expect a man of millions, the head of a great industry, to be a man worth hearing; but as a rule they don’t know anything outside their own businesses.” - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 327)
“I know the American people, “ Roosevelt stated in 1910, “They have a way of erecting a triumphal arch, and after the Conquering Hero has passed beneath it he may expect to receive a shower of bricks on his back at any moment.” – Henry Fairchild Osborn, Impressions of Great Naturalists, New York, 1924, Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Candice Millard, The River of Doubt, Anchor Books, New York, 2005, (p. 12)
Gathering of Expedition participants prior to setting off down the River of Doubt
I mentioned to Ms. Millard, the author of the last several observations (one above and the one below), when I got her sign another of her books at the Texas Book Festival this past October that she was going to be the reason for my eventual divorce. During the questions and answer segment of the session where she had discussed her latest project, Destiny of the Republic, she had been asked several questions about her Roosevelt and the River of Doubt book and now I had to get it also. Patsy had warned me earlier that if I bought another Teddy Roosevelt book se was gonna leave. Well, Ms. Millard, if divorce comes about, it was your fault—ya made me do it.
But the most poetic and the phrase that I can’t get out of my mind is this statement written by Roosevelt after the killing of one of the camaradas Paishon by the thief and murderer Julio and Paishon’s subsequent burial: “Then we left him forever under the great trees beside the lonely river.” – Theodore Roosevelt, “Through the Brazilian Wilderness,” p. 308, (p. 293), Candice Millard, The River of Doubt, Anchor Books, New York, 2005, (p. 12)
This seems so final and forever. Did TR realize that the jungle would reclaim the grave quickly or that nobody would ever stumble upon it in the wilds of Amazon Basin for time immemorial? Very few things in our world are never, ever, or forever any more—this act might just be one.
For whatever reason, this has stuck with me and I can’t get rid of it.