Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children is a book about the life of Theodore Roosevelt. It includes letters he wrote to his children, as well as illustrations from the time period.
Theodore Roosevelt was an American politician, author, naturalist and soldier who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. He is one of only two people to serve in all three offices-presidential, vice presidential and congressional Senate.
When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, he was 42 years old, making him the country’s youngest president, and his children with wife Edith were equally young. Theodore III (14), Kermit (12), Ethel (10), Archibald (7), and Quentin (4), as well as seventeen-year-old Alice from TR’s previous marriage, brought to the White House an unusual degree of exuberant, early-years vitality.
Roosevelt, despite the weight of his office’s obligations, made time for his children, writing weekly letters to each of them while he was gone on business or they were away at school. TR said of Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children: “I would rather have this book published than everything that has ever been written about me.” His children treasured and saved these missives, and a selection of their father’s favorites was published in 1919.
Roosevelt’s larger-than-life achievements and private temperament might make him appear distant and unreachable at times, but his letters to his children reflect his likeable, humorous, paternal side, as well as his profound love for his family. He waxed lyrical about the family’s horses and dogs, his roughhousing antics with the younger kids, and the beauty and fauna of his surroundings at home and onboard (“I guess I become more fond of flowers every year,” he exclaimed).
Teddy’s artwork that accompanied his letters to his children.
He used to include comical illustrations in his letters while his children were younger, but as they got older, he began to write about more serious topics. “The playmate of infancy became the sympathetic and deeply engaged partner in all physical events, in the study of books and the examination of writers, and in the debate of politics and public affairs,” according to the book’s preface.
While he seldom gives direct guidance to his children and doesn’t wax lyrical about what it means to be a parent, the letters have an indirect influence that is much more significant: they provide subtle but powerful inspiration for what fatherhood should look and feel like.
While the whole wonderful collection is worth reading, we’ve selected a few of our favorite letters from TR to his children (as well as a couple to relatives/friends concerning his children) to share with you.
QUENTIN AND ARCHIE
May 7, 1901, Oyster Bay
I’ve recently gone in to play with Archie and Quentin after they’ve gone to bed, and they’ve learned to anticipate me, springing up in their tommies, soft and warm, expecting me to turn them over on the bed and tickle and “grabble” in them. However, it proved to be much too thrilling, and an edict was issued that from now on, I must play bear with them before dinner and stop when they go to bed.
Today was Archie’s birthday, and Quentin was irritated that Archie had received gifts but he (Quentin) had received none. When questioned about his lack of altruistic spirit, he exhibited an apparently superficial contrition and responded, “Well, boys must lend boys stuff, at any rate!” with the awful candor of a three-year-old.
PETS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE
9 June 1902, White House
MR. HARRIS, MY DEAR:
(In response to Joel Chandler Harris)
Mrs. Roosevelt and I were sitting on the back porch of the White House last night, and we were talking about you and wishing you could be there with us. It’s enjoyable at any time of day, but I believe it’s particularly wonderful after dark. In the night, the monument is distinct but not quite tangible, and the air is pleasant with jasmine and honeysuckle at this time of year.
All of the younger children are now engrossed in different pets, the most prominent of which is a puppy of the most traditional breed. Then there’s Jack, the terrier, and Sailor Boy, the Chesapeake Bay dog; and Eli, the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted and whom I suspect; and Jonathan, the piebald rat, who also crawls all over everyone; and the flying squirrel, and two kangaroo rats; and Archie’s pony, Algonquin, who is the most absolute pet of them all.
CUSTOMS AND SCENERY IN THE WEST
10 May 1903, Del Monte, California
ETHEL, THE DARLING:
I felt it was really kind of you to write to me so often. Of course, I’m tired, and the following four days, which include a trip to San Francisco, will be exhausting, but I’m OK. This is a lovely hotel where we’ll be spending Sunday, complete with gardens and a seventeen-mile drive along the coastline and rocks, passing through pines and cypresses. I rode a horse through the woods. My horse was a little stunner, energetic, quick, surefooted, and tough. We had a lot of fun galloping. By the way, tell mother that I’ve seen most of the girls and most of the grown-up ladies riding astride everywhere out here, from the Mississippi to the Pacific. It is, without a doubt, far healthier for the horses’ backs. I believe the side-saddle will have practically disappeared by the time you are an elderly lady—at least, I hope so.
Going through New Mexico and witnessing the weird ancient desert culture was fascinating, as was visiting the Grand Canyon of Arizona the following day, which was spectacular and gorgeous beyond words. I could have sat there for days staring at it. It’s a massive abyss, a mile deep and many miles wide, with cliffs sculpted into battlements, amphitheaters, turrets, and pinnacles, with beautiful red, yellow, gray, and green colors. Then we travelled across the desert, over the Sierras, and arrived in this semi-tropical region of southern California, complete with palm trees, orange groves, olive groves, and vast numbers of flowers.
THE CHILDREN’S TREASURES
10 May 1903, Del Monte, California
KERMIT THE BLESSED:
I’ve had a great time traveling over the previous several weeks. I had lengthy rides to the Grand Canyon last Sunday, today (Sunday), and also on Wednesday, and the country was weird and wonderful. I’ve gathered a range of riches that I’ll have to attempt to distribute evenly among you kids. By the way, one of the treasures is a little badger named Josiah, who has now been shortened to Josh. I touch him and cradle him in my arms because he is incredibly clever. I hope he grows up to be a nice person. Dulany looks after him quite well, and we give him milk and potatoes.
I had a great day reconnecting with an old Harvard friend. When I was in college, he was the heavyweight boxing champion.
Your sighting of the wild deer piqued my attention. That was just amazing. By the way, today when I cycled down the shore, I saw seals, cormorants, gulls, and ducks, all of which were quite friendly.
10 May 1903, Del Monte, California
I believe you and Quentin were really clever to write me that letter jointly. I wish you could have joined me on Algonquin today, since it was a great day for a ride. Dr. Rixey and I were mounted on two beautiful horses with Mexican saddles and bridles, as well as extremely slim leather reins with silver rings. The route wound its way through pine and cypress groves, as well as along the coastline. The surf was pounding on the rocks in one spot, and just between two of them, where I couldn’t see how anything could swim, a seal arrived, stood up on his tail half out of the frothy water, fluttered his flippers, and looked as as ease as anything could. All around us, beautiful birds soared close to us, while cormorants swam or wandered down the beach.
When I return, I will distribute a multitude of valuables among you children. Bill the Lizard is one of the gems. He’s a smart tiny live lizard known as a horned frog that lives in a little box. Josh, the tiny badger, is doing well and enjoys milk and potatoes. We brought him out today and let him run around on the sand. So far, he seems to be as pleasant as imaginable.
AN EXTREMELY HOMESICK PRESIDENT
10 May 1903, Del Monte, California
I enjoyed reading your letter. I miss my mother and you kids terribly, but I’ve had a great time traveling this week. I’ve been among the orange groves, where the trees are covered with oranges and there are more blooms than you can imagine. I have a gold top that I’ll offer you if your mother believes you’ll look after it. Instead, I’ll probably offer you a silver bell. I think of you and Archie every time I see a tiny child being carried up by his parent or mother to look at the parade as we pass by. Little boys, like Archie on Algonquin, sometimes ride in the parade on their horses.
CHILDREN’S PASSIONS AND SPORTS
6 August 1903, Oyster Bay
(Addressing Miss Emily T. Carow)
Edith’s birthday is today, and the kids have been much too clever in their celebrations. Ethel had hemstitched a little handkerchief herself, and she had carefully wrapped her present, as well as the gifts of all the other children, in white paper and fastened with ribbons. They were mostly carried downstairs and placed on her plate for breakfast. Then, around lunchtime, Kermit and Ethel marched in with a cake and forty-two candles, each with a piece of paper attached to it depicting the animal or inanimate item from which the candle originated. All of the dogs and horses, including Renown, Bleistein, Yagenka, Algonquin, Sailor Boy, Brier, Hector, and Tom Quartz, the cat, the unusually named hens, such as Baron Speckle and Fierce, and even the boats and that pomegranate that Edith gave Kermit and has always been known as Santiago, had their own tag on a special candle.
Edith is in great shape this summer and seems to be extremely youthful and attractive. She spends a lot of time with us and still adores Yagenka. We also go rowing together, bringing our lunch and a few of books. The children rightfully revere her, as they should, for no one has ever known a more loving mother.
The youngsters are as clever and as nice as they can be. Ted is almost as tall as I am, and he’s as strong and wiry as you’d expect. He is an excellent rider and can compete in a variety of sports such as walking, jogging, swimming, shooting, wrestling, and boxing.
Kermit is still as clever as ever, and he’s come a long way. The other day, he and his buddy Philip set off for a night of camping in their finest. They had to retreat due to a severe storm, demonstrating great courage, skill, and judgment. They arrived home at nine o’clock in the evening after being out for twelve hours. Archie is still completely committed to Algonquin and Nicholas. George and Jack, Aleck Russell, who is at Princeton, and Ensign Hamner of the Sylph are Ted’s playmates. Wrestling, shooting, swimming, tennis, and lengthy boat voyages are among their favorite activities. Quenty-quee has thrown off the nursery trammels and grown into a highly energetic, brave, and well-behaved young boy. The kids have a great time out here, and it’s an excellent location for them. The three sets of cousins are in constant contact.
Last week, I brought Kermit and Archie, as well as Philip, Oliver, and Nicholas, camping in the two rowboats. They were having a great time, as usual, sleeping folded up in their blankets and waking up at an ungodly hour. They also showed, as always, a heartfelt and strong belief that my food is unrivaled. It was a modest meal, consisting of frying beefsteak first and then potatoes in bacon grease over an open fire; nonetheless, they ate in a manner that demonstrated their statements were not said in jest.
A PRESIDENT IN ACTION
16th of August, 1903, Oyster Bay
(Addressing Miss Emily T. Carow)
Archie and Nick’s relationship continues to be inseparable. I wish you could have seen them the other day, marching solemnly up the hill after one of the picnics, each with a trapped turtle in his disengaged hand. Archie is a kind, caring, and clever little goose. Quentin, a happy spirit, is now fully integrated into the group and participates enthusiastically in all of the children’s activities, including the romps in the old barn. When Ethel celebrated her birthday, she insisted that I participate in and oversee a frolic in the old barn, which she invited all of the Roosevelt children, Ensign Hamner of the Sylph, Bob Ferguson, and Aleck Russell to. Of course, I couldn’t say no; but, to put it gently, it appears quite unusual for a hefty, elderly President to be bouncing over hay-ricks in a mad dash to get to goal before an energetic nine-year-old rival. However, it was a lot of fun.
Lorraine and Ted put on an interesting amateur theatrical performance for the kids the other day. Laura Roosevelt’s tennis court was used for the acting. All of the youngsters were devious, particularly Quentin, who was dressed as Cupid in the most revealing pink muslin tights and bodice. Ted and Lorraine, who played George Washington and Cleopatra, were fantastic in their roles. At the conclusion, the whole ensemble joined hands in a song and dance, with the last lyric dedicated to me specifically. I adore all of these kids and have a lot of fun with them, and I’m moved by how they see me as their particular friend, champion, and companion.
AN EXAMPLE OF A PREACHING LETTER
2 October 1903, White House
I was delighted to get your note. I’m delighted you’re involved in football. I wouldn’t want to see either you or Ted devote most of your attention to athletics, and I don’t have any particular desire to see you excel in athletics in college (if you go), because I believe it takes up too much time; however, I do want to believe that you are manly and capable of holding your own in rough, hardy sports. I’d rather have a guy excel in his academics than in sports, but I’d much rather have him demonstrate genuine manliness of character than either intellectual or physical prowess, and I feel you and Ted are both doing a good job of developing that character.
There! You’ll think this is a depressingly preachy letter! I believe I have a natural tendency to preach right now since I am overburdened with work. I appreciate being President because I love working and having my hand on the lever. However, it is really concerning and perplexing, and I must decide whether or not to accept any form of assault or deception. Reading Abraham Lincoln’s life and correspondence brings me much comfort. Every day, I am more and more astonished, not just by the man’s incredible strength and sagacity, but also by his almost limitless patience and unwavering resolve.
SPORTS IN THE RIGHT PLACE
4 October 1903, White House
I’m ecstatic to have you join the football team. I am a firm believer in macho sports. But I don’t believe in them if they become the primary purpose of someone’s life. I don’t want you to neglect your academics in favor of over-athleticism, and I don’t think I need to remind you that character matters much more than intelligence or physical prowess in achieving success in life. Athletic ability is a wonderful servant, but, like so many other fine slaves, a terrible master. Have you ever read Pliny’s letter to Trajan, in which he suggests that keeping the Greeks engrossed in sports is a good idea since it diverts their attention away from all other occupations, including soldiering, and keeps them from being a threat to the Romans? I have little doubt that British officers in the Boer War were less effective in part because they had neglected their rightful responsibilities in favor of an excessive and ludicrous love of sports.
A man’s physical prowess is important up to a degree, but after he reaches that limit, other factors become more important. I’m pleased you’re a football player; I’m glad you’re a boxer; I’m glad you can ride, shoot, walk, and row as well as you do. If you did not accomplish these things, I would be extremely sad. But never let yourself fall into the trap of believing that these things are the final goal to which you must commit all of your efforts.
I’m very busy right now, dealing with the usual never-ending worry and discouragement, and trying to remember that I must be as patient, as uncomplaining, and as even-tempered as Abraham Lincoln in dealing with knaves, as well as the well-meaning foolish people, educated and uneducated, who give the knaves their chance through their unwisdom.
A PILLOW FIGHT AND A RIDE
The White House on October 19, 1903.
Ethel on Wyoming, Mother on Yagenka, and I on Renown went for a long ride yesterday afternoon, the only incident being a huge red vehicle, which rattled Renown’s nerves, but he behaved significantly better than he has in the past when it comes to autos. In fact, he behaved so well that as he passed the source of terror—the elderly boy excitedly bending his head around to grab it—I bent over and handed him a lump of sugar. It was a beautiful day out in the country, with the leaves on the trees looking their finest for the season. There are no red maples here, but Virginia creepers and certain dogwoods provide the color, while hickories, tulip trees, and beech trees provide a vivid yellow, often nearly orange, hue.
When we returned home, Mother walked upstairs first, where she was met by Archie and Quentin, each carrying a pillow and whispering not to tell me they were planning an ambush; when I marched up to the top, they greeted me with shrieks and delighted giggles, and the pillow war raged up and down the hall.
THE CHILDREN’S VICE-MOTHER
15 November 1903, White House
Mother is away for nine days, and I am filling in as vice-mother. Archie and Quentin are much too clever for their own good. Every night, I read to them for approximately three-quarters of an hour. I began by reading a book such as Algonquin Indian Tales or Scott or Macaulay’s poetry. I’ve also started reading them from the Bible every evening. The narrative of Saul, David, and Jonathan has been told. They’ve been so engaged that I’ve had to read them more than one chapter on various occasions. After that, each person says his prayers and repeats the song he is learning, with Quentin dancing gravely up and down while doing so. After each of them had perfected one song, I gave each of them with a five-cent piece, as per mother’s prior instructions. I took both of them, as well as Ethel, and the three older Garfield lads, on a lengthy climb down Rock Creek yesterday (Saturday). We had a fantastic time.
THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS HAPPINESS
26 December 1903, White House
(To Mrs. Douglas Robinson, his sister)
We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas yesterday, exactly like the ones we used to spend on 20th and 57th streets under Father and Mother’s supervision thirty or forty years ago. All the kids came in at seven o’clock to open the enormous, bulgy stockings on our bed, with Kermit’s terrier, Allan, a really nice little dog, adding to the excitement by sleeping in the center of the bed. Each youngster, from Alice to Quentin, was engrossed in his or her stocking, and Edith had the most exquisite stocking toys. Aunt Emily, of course, was watching from the sidelines. Then, after breakfast, we all formed a line and marched into the library, where the children’s larger toys were placed on separate tables.
I wonder if there is ever a sense of greater exaltation and pleasure than that experienced by a child between the ages of six and fourteen when the library door is flung wide and you go in to view all the presents, arranged on your particular table like a manifested fairy land?
MILITARY AND CIVIL LIFE’S VALUES
21 January 1904, White House
This is going to be a lengthy business letter. I sent you the West Point and Annapolis exams papers. I’ve given it a lot of consideration, and Mother and I have spoken about it extensively. On the one hand, I feel obligated to offer you my best counsel, but on the other hand, I don’t want to seem to be pressuring you against your will. If you’ve made up your mind that you want to be in the Navy or the Army, and that this is the one career in which you’ll take a truly heartfelt interest—far more than any other—and that doing this one work to which you feel especially drawn will provide you with the greatest chance for happiness and usefulness, then I’m sorry, but I don’t have much to say.
However, I am not convinced that this is your true emotion. It appeared to me that you were drawn to the Navy or Army primarily because you would have a definite and settled career in life, and could hope to go on steadily without any great risk of failure; and that you are therefore inclined to turn to the Navy or Army chiefly because you would have a definite and settled career in life, and could hope to go on steadily without any great risk of failure. If you believe this, I will give Captain Mahan’s response to a question about why he did not send his son to West Point or Annapolis. “I have much too much faith in him to believe that he would be a good fit for any branch of the military.”
I have a lot of faith in you. I think you possess the talent, as well as the drive, tenacity, and common sense, to succeed in civic life. I have no doubt that you will face certain difficulties and disappointments; but, this is only another way of stating that you will share the common lot. Though you will be required to labor in different ways than I did, you will not be required to work any harder or endure any longer times of despair. I have faith in your talent and, more importantly, in your character, and I am convinced that you will prevail.
In the Army and Navy, a man’s opportunity to demonstrate exceptional talent and advance beyond his peers occurs just once per generation on average. It was depressing to see how calcified, lacking in desire, and just worthless most of the guys my age and older who had served their whole lives in the Army were while I was down in Santiago. For the past few years, the Navy has been better, but for the first twenty years following the Civil War, the Navy had less opportunities to practice and execute real-world work than the Army. In both the Army and the Navy, I’ve seen lieutenants who were grandfathers who had seen their children married before they themselves rose to the rank of captain. Of course, the opportunity may arise at any moment when a West Point or Annapolis graduate who has remained in the Army or Navy discovers a major conflict and therefore has the possibility to advance high. In these conditions, I believe that a guy with such training who has really left the Army or Navy has a better chance of ascending than a man who has stayed in. Furthermore, even if he is not a West Pointer, a guy may frequently perform what I did in the Spanish War.
This second point presents the possibility of you attending West Point or Annapolis and then quitting the Army or Navy after serving the required four years (I believe that is the amount) after graduation. This approach would provide you with an outstanding education, a solid foundation in discipline, and, in some ways, a higher test of your potential than I believe any conventional institution can provide. On the other hand, unless you were an engineer, you would have had no specific instruction and would have been so organized and provided for that you would have less character freedom than you might learn from them. You would have had fewer temptations, but you would have had less opportunities to hone the skills that allow a man to withstand temptations and demonstrate independent initiative. Assume you enrolled at the age of seventeen with the aim of completing this program. As a consequence, at the age of twenty-five, you would leave the Army or Navy without having completed any law school or special technical school of any type, and you would begin your life job three or four years later than your classmates today, who begin working directly after graduation. Of course, you may study law for four years after graduation under such conditions; nevertheless, my personal opinion is that a guy performs excellent work best when he is working on something that he wants to make his permanent job and is passionate about. Furthermore, there is always the possibility that the Army or Navy could be short on officers, and you will be forced to remain in the military rather than leaving when you choose.
I want you to think about all of this very carefully. It would be a terrible shame for you to enter the Army or Navy as a profession only to discover that you had misjudged your aspirations and entered without properly assessing the options.
You should not enter unless you are sincerely interested in living as a life-work. If that’s the case, go ahead and enter; otherwise, don’t.
WRESTLING IN JAPAN
5 March 1904, White House
Three times a week, I wrestle with two Japanese wrestlers. I’m not the age or build that one would imagine would allow me to be twirled lightly over an opponent’s head and slammed onto a mattress without injury. However, they are so skilled that I have not been harmed in the least. My neck hurts a bit because once, while one of them was strangling me, I grabbed his windpipe and believed I could choke him out before he choked me. He did, however, get ahead.
9 April 1904, White House
I’m pleased I’ve been doing this Japanese wrestling, but after I’m done with it this time, I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again, especially because I’m so busy with other things right now. After an eight-hour wrestling match with Senators, Congressmen, and others, I often feel like a stewed owl by five o’clock in the afternoon; then I find the wrestling a little too fierce for plain relaxation. My right ankle, left wrist, one thumb, and both great toes are all swelled to the point of being useless, and I’m covered with bruises everywhere else. Still, I’ve made terrific progress, and they’ve taught me three new throws that are perfect corkers since you left.
THE JOYS OF THE WHITE HOUSE
May 28, 1904, White House
I have a respectable quantity of work and far more than a reasonable level of anxiety. But, after all, it’s a great place to live. The nation is lovely, and I don’t believe any two individuals have ever had more fun in the White House than Mother and me. We adore the home, both outside and within, for its associations, calm, and simplicity. The garden is one of our favorites. We also like Washington. We nearly usually have breakfast on the south porch these days, Mother looking lovely in her summer outfits. Then we take a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk in the garden, admiring the flowers, the fountain, and the trees. Then I work until four or five o’clock in the afternoon, generally eating lunch with some high-ranking officials—now a couple of Senators, now a couple of Ambassadors, now a literary figure, now a capitalist or labor leader, or a scientist, or a big-game hunter. We spend a couple of hours on horseback if Mother wants to ride. Since my return, we’ve had a nice trip along the Virginia coast, and yesterday we traveled up Rock Creek and swung back home via the roads where the locust trees were most abundant—they’re now white with blooms. Except for the laurels, this is the last big burst of bloom we’ll see this year. However, there are many flowers in bloom or barely emerging, the honeysuckle being the most noticeable. That is presently perfuming the south portico. Later, the jasmine will bloom. If we don’t go for a ride, I go for a walk or play tennis. But, alas, Ted has dropped out of his father’s tennis lesson!
THE DAY BEFORE THE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION
21 June 1904, White House
The National Convention will gather tomorrow, and barring a catastrophe, I will be nominated. There is a lot of complaining, but it’s more about hatred of what they perceive to be my dictation in terms of technicalities than it is about me personally. They won’t dare to resist my nomination, and I doubt there will be any effort to rush the Convention in favor of anybody. Nobody knows how the election will turn out. Of course, I want to be elected, but I am well aware of how fortunate I have been, not just to be President but also to have been able to do so much while in office, and whatever the result, I am not only satisfied but also deeply grateful for all of my good fortune. From Panama until the present, I’ve been able to do a number of things that will have a lasting impact on our history. In fact, I don’t believe any family has ever had more fun in the White House than we have. I was just thinking about that this morning as Mother and I ate breakfast on the porch and then strolled around the wonderful gardens, admiring the magnificent ancient old home. It’s a beautiful honor to be here and to have been given the opportunity to do this job, and I’d consider myself a little and cruel person if, in the case of failure, I felt bitter about not having had more instead of being grateful for having had so much.
JIM WHITE, BIG
3 December 1904, White House
KERMIT THE BLESSED:
Major Loeffler was marshalling the usual stream of visitors from England, Germany, the Pacific slope, etc., of warm admirers from remote country places, of bridal couples, etc., etc., when a huge man, about six feet four, of middle age, but with every one of his great sinews and muscles as fit as ever, came in and asked to see me on the grounds that he was a former friend. He was introduced to me as Mr. White as the line progressed. “Mr. Roosevelt, maybe you don’t remember me,” the enormous, rough-looking person said hesitantly after I greeted him in the customary fairly perfunctory fashion. Next spring will be twenty years since I worked on the roundup with you. At the mouth of the Box Alder, my attire met yours.” “Why, it’s huge Jim,” I remarked as I stared at him. He was a fantastic cowpuncher, and he’s still out on the range in northern Nebraska. He was a great fighter when I met him, but he always loved me. I had to intervene twice to keep him from half-murdering cowboys on my property. I had him for lunch with a mixed group of local and international dignitaries.
Old boy, don’t worry about the teachings. I know you’re putting in a lot of effort in your studies. Don’t let yourself down. Sometimes in life, both at school and thereafter, luck will be against you, but if you keep pegging and don’t lose your bravery, things will always turn out better in the end.
THE WHITE HOUSE IN THE WINTER
17 December 1904, White House
KERMIT THE BLESSED:
The weather has been chilly for the last week, with temperatures dropping below zero at night and seldom rising above freezing in the shade during midday. As a result, the snow has stayed there, and thanks to the waxing moon, I’ve had some of the most enjoyable evening and night rides conceivable. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to get out until after dark, but I went in the fur jacket Uncle Will gave me as part of his prize money from the Spanish War, and the moonlight on the gleaming snow made the rides even more lovely than they would have been during the day. Mother and Ted sometimes accompanied me, and the gallops were a lot of fun. Today it snowed severely once again, but the snow was so soft that I didn’t want to go outside, and I was already overworked. Skating and sleigh rides have been going on all week.
The new black “Jack” dog is settling in well and becoming fond of the family.
I completed “The Last of the Mohicans” with Archie and Quentin and am currently working on “The Deerslayer.” They’re as clever as ever, and reading to them in the evening provides me an opportunity to see them that I wouldn’t otherwise have, despite the fact that it’s often difficult to find time.
THE CHILDREN’S PLAYMATE
4 January 1905, White House
(To Mrs. Emlen Roosevelt and Mr. Emlen Roosevelt)
I am very moved by the way your children, as well as mine, regard me as a playmate and friend. It has a humorous aspect to it. As a result, on their final day here, the guys were all set on having me take them for a scramble down Rock Creek. Of fact, there was no reason why they couldn’t go alone, but they clearly believed that my presence was necessary to add spice to the show. As a result, I set out with the two Russell brothers, George, Jack, and Philip, as well as Ted, Kermit, and Archie, as well as one of Archie’s friends—a robust young kid who, according to Archie, had played opposite him in the position of center rush previous autumn. I don’t think any of them thought it was strange that the President was covered in mud as much as they were, or that I was wiggling and clambering around jutting rocks, through cracks, and up what were really small cliff faces, just like the rest of them; and whenever any of them beat me at any point, he felt and expressed simple and wholehearted delight, as if it had been a victory over a rival his own age.
INTRODUCTION TO NOVELS AND GAMES
November 19, 1905, White House
Every thing you say in your letter on Nicholas Nickleby, and about books in general, resonates with me. Normally, I only care about a work if it has a decent conclusion, and I agree with you that if the hero must die, he should die worthy and nobly, so that our pain at the tragedy is mitigated by the pleasure and pride that comes with a man doing his job honorably and fearlessly. There is enough pain, humiliation, anguish, and baseness in real life; there is no need to meet it in fiction needlessly. As Police Commissioner, it was my duty to deal with all kinds of squalid misery and hideous and unspeakable infamy, and I should have been worse than a coward if I had shied away from doing what was necessary; but it would have been of no use to me to read novels detailing all this misery, squalor, and crime, or at least to read them steadily. Every now and then, there is a powerful but sad story that is truly interesting and does good; however, the books that do good and that healthy people find interesting are usually not of the sugar-candy variety, but which, while depicting foulness and suffering when they must be depicted, also have a joyful as well as a noble side.
AN HONORABLE MENTION FOR ARCHIE
11 March 1906, White House
I agree with almost all of your points of view on Thackeray and Dickens, while you favor several of Thackeray’s works that I dislike. Mother adores everything. By the way, Mother has been reading “The Legend of Montrose” to the small boys, who are completely engrossed in it. She has a hard time finding anything that would appeal to both Archie and Quentin since their personalities are so different.
I’m extremely pleased with Archie’s performance the day before yesterday. Outside of Mr. Sidwell’s school, several of the older boys were tossing a baseball around when it struck one of them in the eye, shattering all of the blood vessels and causing a life-threatening injury. The other guys were frightened and helpless, so they snuck away when Mr. Sidwell approached. Archie remained silent and immediately advised that the youngster see Dr. Wilmer. As a result, he sped down to Dr. Wilmer’s and informed him that one of Mr. Sidwell’s lads had been injured in the eye and that he might bring him. Dr. Wilmer, who was unaware that Archie was there, sent communication to that effect. So Archie raced back on his wheel, grabbed the youngster (I’m not sure why Mr. Sidwell didn’t take him himself), and brought him down to Dr. Wilmer’s, who attended to his eye and had to rush him to the hospital, Archie waiting until he learned the outcome before returning home. Dr. Wilmer told me about it and stated the youngster (who was four or five years older than Archie) might have lost his sight if Archie hadn’t responded quickly enough.
A sandbox is a dream come true for two tiny boys! When Archie and Quentin are out on the grounds, they spend much of their free time working on it. When I have a group of Senators and Congressmen with me, I frequently glance out the office windows and see them both hard at work organizing caves or mountains with runways for their marbles.
Goodbye, kind sailor. I’ll be thinking of you a lot throughout the next week, and I’m thrilled that Mother will be there for your confirmation.
AN IMMENSELY LARGE AND ALONE WHITE HOUSE
1 April 1906, White House
Slipper is doing well, as are the kittens. I believe the kittens will be large enough for you to touch and enjoy when you return home, despite the fact that they will still be very young. I miss you all terribly, and the house feels big and lonely and full of echoes without anyone else in it; and I don’t hear any small scamps running up and down the hall as fast as they can; or hear their voices while I’m getting dressed; or look out the office windows at the tennis court and see them racing over it or playing in the sandbox. I am deeply in love with you.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT DICKENS
May 20, 1906, in the White House
Your message was read to us by Mother, and I was intrigued by the conversation between you and about Dickens. Characters in Dickens’ works are mostly personified traits rather than persons. As a result, although there aren’t quite as many who are truly like persons one encounters, as in Thackeray’s case, there are a lot more who have traits we see all the time, but seldom as well developed as in the fictitious originals. As a result, Dickens’ characters live nearly as long as Bunyan’s. For example, Jefferson Brick, Elijah Pogram, and Hannibal Chollop are all true personifications of various negative inclinations in American society, and I’m often thinking about or mentioning some newspaper editor, Senator, or murderous rabble by one of these three names. I’ve never encountered someone who looks precisely like Uriah Heep, but every now and then, we meet people who exhibit characteristics that make it simple to identify them as Uriah Heep. Micawber is in the same boat.
Mrs. Nickleby isn’t precisely a real person, but she embodies, in exaggerated form, attributes that many genuine people possess, and I find myself thinking of her whenever I meet someone new. There are a half-dozen Dickens works that, in my opinion, have given us more characters who are the permanent companions of the average educated man than any other half-dozen volumes produced during the same time.
DELIGHTS FROM THE ATTIC
June 17, 1906, at the White House
ETHEL, THE BLESSED:
Your message made me very happy. I laughed out loud twice as I read it. How much I relate with your sentiments in the attic, George! I know what it’s like to climb into such a place and discover the delightful, winding passages where one lay hidden with thrills of criminal delight when the grownups were vainly demanding one’s appearance at some legitimate and abhorred function; and then the once-beloved and half-forgotten treasures, and the emotions of peace and war, with references to former companions, which they recall.
I’m not startled at all by mental telepathy; there’s a lot in it, and similar phenomena, that is true but that we don’t comprehend right now. The main problem is that it is often confused with a variety of imposters.
Nov. 14th, on board the USS Louisiana
I’m delighted I went on this vacation, even if I’m bored with the water as usual. Everything has gone as well as possible, and having Mother around has been wonderful. Being onboard this big battleship and seeing not only the ship’s material excellence in engines, weapons, and other arrangements, but also the superb quality of the commanders and crew, gives me tremendous pride in America. Have you read any of Smollett’s novels, such as “Roderick Random” or “Humphrey Clinker,” in which the protagonist sails to sea? It gives me a terrible impression of what a battleship was like back then, a floating nightmare of dirt, sickness, despotism, and brutality. Every arrangement is now as clean and healthy as it possibly can be. The males are free to wash as frequently as they like as long as they are clean. Their food is outstanding, and they are as respectable a group as one can imagine. I’m not a big believer in historical supremacy, but there’s little doubt that the commanders and men of our Navy today are greater fighters than those of Drake and Nelson, and the moral and physical edge is in our favor.
It was wonderful to have you in Washington for two or three days. You had a rough time at college this autumn, Ted; but it can’t be prevented; as one gets older, the bitter and the sweet come together more and more. The only option is to smile and bear it, flinch as little as possible in the face of the punishment, and keep pegging steadily away until luck shifts.
THE SNAKE ADVENTURE OF QUENTIN
28 September 1907, White House
ARCHIE: DEAREST DEAREST DEAREST DEAREST DEAREST DEAR
Quentin had gathered two snakes before we left Oyster Bay. He misplaced one and did not find it until an hour before departure, when it was discovered in one of the spare rooms. He let this one go free and took the other to Washington, where they had a variety of fascinating events along the route, including the snake wiggling out of his box and being disturbed on the floor.
Quentin was not permitted to attend to school on his first day home, but instead was allowed to go out and reestablish all of his pals. Schmid’s animal shop was one among the locations he went, and it was there that he abandoned his small snake. Schmid gave him three snakes to entertain him for the day: a giant, gorgeous, and extremely friendly king snake, and two little teeny snakes. Quentin rushed back into the room on his roller skates, eager to show me his prizes. At the moment, I was discussing certain issues with the Attorney-General, and the snakes were gladly thrown on my lap. By the way, the king snake had been making a determined attempt to consume one of the lesser snakes, while being really friendly with Quentin. Because Quentin and his posse were interfering with my visit with the Department of Justice, I recommended he walk into the next room, where four Congressmen sat glumly awaiting my arrival. I figured he and his snakes would keep them occupied while they waited. He immediately agreed with the notion and went up to the Congressmen, certain that he would find like-minded people there. They first mistook the snakes for wooden ones, and when they learned they were living, they recoiled somewhat. The king snake then climbed up Quentin’s sleeve—he was three or four feet long—and we feared to bring him back due to his scales. One Congressman was delicately assisting Quentin off with his jacket the last time I saw him, so the snake could creep out of the top end of the sleeve.
“EXQUISITE JEST” OF QUENTIN
The White House on January 2, 1908.
Quentin had invited three friends, including the young Taft child, to spend the night with him on Friday night. They spent an evening and night in delirious pleasure, a continuous roughhouse but for the occasional hour or two when they fell asleep from tiredness. I only intervened once, to prevent Quentin from carrying out an excellent prank in which he procured sulphured hydrogen to use on the other boys after they went to bed.
They played hard, and it made me realize how old I’d become and how busy I’d been these previous several years when I realized I wasn’t required in the play anymore. Do you recall how we used to play hide-and-seek in the White House together? when you bring in your pals, and had obstacle races along the hall?