Page 1

1901_10_12--003_SP Theodore Roosevelt

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST Theodore Roosevelt, Harvard '80 PRAWN BY JAMES PRESTON AND F. B. BROBER By Owen Wister I N HARVARD COLLEGE there was a joyful society to which the entrance lay through gates of tribulation. The society shall be nameless, but I may say that it belonged to th e Sophomore year. For those lucky but alarmed youths who were serving their novitiate it had rites and processes extraordinary; but once the gates of tribulation were passed one entered instantly upon a land that was flowing with milk and honey. It was my fortune to be chosen into this society; and during the days of penance that were, so to speak, my preliminary examination, it was my still greater fortune to encounter Mr. Theodore Roosevelt. He would not be likely to retain the slightest memory of the occasion, for to him indeed it was not an occasion. He was an upper-classman. The days of his penance lay two years behind him, and he was only visiting the tortures of a younger generation, as all upper-class members of the society were expected and invited to do. This custom was supposed to lend dignity to the ceremonies. You are to imagine an ordinary college room, with the usual books and pictures, filled with smoke, and seated on its floor four or five performing wretches. I was one of these; and for an hour I had been obeying the whims and inspirations of those members of the society who happened to be the torturers for that evening. But it is hard to make this sort of thing remain lively. An hour is a long time to keep imagination going; and you will readily see that the whole success of an exhibition in torture does not lie with the victims, but with their executioners. We were having a stupid time, and everybody was tired of it. Upon this dullness the door opened and Mr. Theodore Roosevelt entered with two or three of his friends. I had seen him before in the gymnasium, but never until now had been in a private room with him. I shall never forget the difference that his presence made in our spirits. He proceeded at once to torture us energetically. We were put through a number of perfectly new tricks; but, dear me, how I enjoyed it! Instead of the tiresome fooling that had so lately depressed me, I became filled with internal gayety that I dared not reveal. I longed to ask Mr. Roosevelt to do it some more, but this, of course, was impossible from a Sophomore and a stranger to an upper-classman. Therefore I had to be content with my silent enjoyment, and presently it was all over. Mr. Roosevelt soon had enough of us, and having performed his duty of visiting the games he went away. During the whole of his stay, which I suppose was not ten minutes long, there had been a breeze of robust good humor and geniality throughout the room. When he departed we all became again immediately as dull as ditch-water. I shall never forget it, this first impression of Theodore Roosevelt. Three Aspects of the President's Character . I have another undergraduate impression of him that discretion will not forbid my recording. One of our chief pleasures in this mysterious society was theatrical entertainments. On the appointed day all old members gathered to endure, with the aid of many refreshments, our wit and our minstrelsy. Upon this night Der Freischfitz was billed, a comical-romantic opera in three acts, and Mr. Theodore Roosevelt took sudden and great offense at a line in one of the songs, which he mistakenly supposed was leveled at him. Had there been such an intention it would have been entirely inexcusable; but the writer of that line was quite innocent. The next day saw the breach all healed. Upon the instant that Mr. Roosevelt learned that it had been a misunderstanding, no cordiality could have exceeded his. In those days Theodore Roosevelt was not twenty-two; to-day he is forty-two, and what else he is our nation has found out in great measure, and has shown itself pleased with what it has found. Nevertheless it must still watch him, with a mingling of confidence in his character and anxiety at his youth. Yet so consistent has been his career that from the college anecdotes I have narrated it seems most easy to trace the man into which Mr. Roosevelt has grown, and to feel that thus will he continue growing. We have the gymnasium, where he was constant—although to this I have made but a passing allusion, having elsewhere dwelt upon it at length. We have his appearance at the scene of torture, and the kindliness and good-fellowship with which he conducted those operations at the theatricals; we have his quick resentment of what he supposed to be an unwarrantable impertinence, and his hearty making of the peace as soon as he discovered he had been in error. And thus we see him in these three aspects: a man devoted to manly sports; a man who makes those who are below him feel not only at their ease but actually happy in dealing with him; a man whose temper is honest in its heat and generous in its forgiveness. Do you not see in such a man the very one fitted to plunge into politics and in that arena strike a blow for high and patriotic ideals? Within a year after he was graduated he had begun this work. Within two years after he was graduated he was a figure already looked upon with commendation by good citizens and with uneasiness by the vermin of politics. His rapid progress in New York paused for a while in 1884, when his notions as to party loyalty came into bitter collision with his notions about reform. Where the College Training Shows Itself And at this point the gymnasium crops out in him again. With a tired, disappointed, and I shall venture to say perplexed spirit, he seeks physical exercise to restore him to a healthy mind. He goes hunting in the Rocky Mountains. The river-banks, with their thickets where run the whitetailed deer, the plains where run the antelope, and the rocks where climb the mountain sheep—all these places become familiar to him. But mark their effect upon his character. They do not change him into a cowboy any more than New York politics changed him into a pot-house politician. He retained clearly and stubbornly his character of college-bred citizen. The wonderful and then unknown life of the cattle country made a great impression upon him. To his mind, at once vigorous and highly educated, the ranch life of the West was something not to allow to pass away unrecorded save by the comic papers. As a student of history he saw that it was a stage in the progress of our civilization; that its dangers and freedom from restraint called together men of a certain character and in them brought forth certain qualities which all manly men possess, but which must lie largely repressed in city houses and city streets. Therefore, when Theodore Roosevelt had opportunity to write, he made known to the rest of the country these things that he had seen upon the frontier; and to-day we may thank him for having preserved for posterity one of the most vital and at the same time romantic episodes in the life of our nation. You perceive in this the college-bred historian; the man who makes use not only of the gifts with which he was born but of those other gifts of education which good fortune has bestowed upon him. It would be far from my purpose here to remind you of Mr. Roosevelt's various steps in political life, or yet of the many admirable volumes that he has been able to publish while that life was in full swing. But my point is that you recognize how he has benefited by his Harvard College education; how, when the unthinking would decry such education for a man who is to struggle with the New York police or with the arch-schemer who befouls New York, this very training has been just so much more strength and capital to him; and how by its very virtue he has made his way and retained that high and honorable stamp which Harvard College, or any college that is worthy of the name, must set upon its worthy sons. Mr. Roosevelt never forgets any of his powers for usefulness. While he watches the welfare of the Commonwealth or while he busies himself with a volume of history or biography, behind these intellectual exercises perpetually remains the old Harvard gymnasium to keep him robust. Whenever the opportunity allows, he again turns his face to the wilderness, to the serenity of Nature, to the pure air of high places, and there brings himself back to that state which permits him to work at full steam. We have had recently an example of this self-preserving instinct in Mr. Roosevelt than which none could be more striking. On a certain Friday in September our country was struck dumb by the hand of calamity. We learned of the assassin's bullet. To no man in our nation could this news have been a greater shock than it must have been to Theodore Roosevelt. For after Mr. McKinley's, the doom would most affect his life and change its whole current the most. It is not possible to conceive w hat force the blow must have had for the Vice- President. And following this came days at Buffalo of watching a n d strain. Gradually the sky seemed to brighten until all of us thought that the sun was actually shining. Those whom the calamity had hurried to Buffalo breathed easily once more, and some of them even at length dispersed back to their homes. In cities far away men met each other in the street with a smile, exclaiming, " All is well." And then it was that Mr. Roosevelt journeyed away from the scene of his great anxiety, thankful that he had been saved front stepping into a dead man's shoes by the help of an assassin. With such a load of care behind him his nature asserted itself in a moment. It was not yet a week since he had received a stunning shock followed by tension and suspense. Now these killing influences were over, and what did he do? He took a long breath and he turned again to the serenity of Nature. He put away the newspapers, the railroad trains, the telegraph messages, the importunate visitors, the futile and endless conversations with which his world was vibrating, and we find him trying to regain composure in the healthy air of the mountains. No man ever did anything more like himself than this; and as long as he lives we may be sure that it is upon the mountain-tops he will find repose. As in the life of a man moments befall which henceforth change him so that he is never the same man again, so to nations come such moments in their lives. Both the United States of America and its new President have been visited with one of these moments. We have been smitten with a disease that belongs not to a young, but to an old, country. We, who give such chances of success to all that it is possible for a young man to go as a laborer into the steel business and before he has reached his mature prime become, through his own industry and talent, the president of a vast steel association— we, who make this possible as no country has ever made it possible, have been stabbed in the back by anarchy. That stab can no more kill us than you could blot out the sun by throwing at it a pebble. But, nevertheless, the weight of maturity has thereby fallen upon us. We take our place now with nations that know the sorrows and the calamities that belong to age. And as a nation which has come to manhood we can no longer play the irresponsible boy which has too frequently been our part. The Trail the President has Blazed To Theodore Roosevelt, also, the crime at Buffalo makes a permanent change. No such weight as now rests upon his shoulders ever rested there before. And whatever thoughts and aspirations he may have had for the future, to come by such a dark road as this into the White House is like a convulsion in his life. But his shoulders have been strong enough to bear each burden that has been set upon him, and into each position that he has come he has grown.* He will fit the size of this position also, and no one knows better than he that for such fitting he must be given time and thought. It is our part to give him our entire sympathy and our entire confidence. If we deny him these we shall be no better than the political vermin who, could they have done so, would have blighted his career at each step. Theodore Roosevelt is a great object-lesson to young gentlemen. You are all familiar with the phrase, " The gentleman in politics." You know what a slur this phrase has come to convey. So much of a slur that you need not look very far at the present moment, or listen very hard, for little words against Mr. Roosevelt for no better reason than because he happens to be a gentleman born. I do not know why a gentleman should not be as good as other people. I do not see • (Concluded on Page 17)


1901_10_12--003_SP Theodore Roosevelt
To see the actual publication please follow the link above