George Washington and the Cherry Tree

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from February 21, 2005:

My mom used to read/quote this poem to us every February 22nd, Geroge Washington’s birthday. Nowadays we celebrate President’s Day, usually before the date of General Washington’s birth, but you can take time out to read a poem in honor of our first president today–even if the story itself is apocryphal. You have to do your best Eyetalian accent for the full effect.

Leetla Giorgio Washeenton
By Thomas Augustine Daly

You know w’at for ees school keep out
Dees holiday, my son?
Wal, den, I gona tal you ’bout
Dees Giorgio Washeenton.

Wal, Giorgio was leetla keed
Ees leeve long time ago,
An’ he gon’ school for learn to read
An’ write hees nam’, you know.
He moocha like for gona school
An’ learna hard all day,
Baycause he no gat time for fool
Weeth bada keeds an’ play.
Wal, wan cold day w’en Giorgio
Ees steell so vera small,
He start from home, but he ees no
Show up een school at all!
Oh, my! hees Pop ees gatta mad
An’ so he tal hees wife:
“Som’ leetla boy ees gon’ feel bad
Today, you bat my life!”
An’ den he grab a bigga steeck
An’ gon’ out een da snow
An’ lookin’ all aroun’ for seek
Da leetla Giorgio.

Ha! w’at you theenk? Firs’ theeng he see
Where leetla boy he stan’,
All tangla up een cherry tree,
Weeth hatchet een hees han’.
“Ha! w’at you do?” hees Pop he say,
“W’at for you busta rule
An’ stay away like dees for play
Eenstead for gon’ to school?”
Da boy ees say: “I no can lie,
An’ so I speaka true.
I stay away from school for try
An’ gat som’ wood for you.
I theenka deesa cherry tree
Ees goodda size for chop,
An’ so I cut heem down, you see,
For justa help my Pop.”
Hees Pop he no can gatta mad,
But looka please’ an’ say:
“My leetla boy, I am so glad
You taka holiday.”

Ees good for leetla boy, you see,
For be so bright an’ try
For help hees Pop; so den he be.
A granda man bimeby.
So now you gotta holiday
An’ eet ees good, you know,
For you gon’ do da sama way
Like leetla Giorgio.
Don’t play so mooch, but justa stop,
Eef you want be som’ good,
An’ try for help your poor old Pop
By carry home som’ wood;
An’ mebbe so like Giorgio
You grow for be so great
You gona be da Presidant
Of dese Unita State’!

“The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson

51Km7NeeU2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_On the evening of November 22, 2013, I was reading, not an unusual activity for me. But instead of reading C.S. Lewis or any of the many novels that I want to finish, I was reading one of the Cybils YA nonfiction books that was nominated this year. “The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson was the sad story of what happened in Dallas fifty years ago, and I was reminded of the fragility of human life and the sinfulness of mankind.

Yes, I remember where I was when I heard the news of Kennedy’s death. Unfortunately for my reputation for perfect recall, I remember incorrectly. I was in first grade in 1963, but for some reason I have a vivid memory of being in my second grade classroom with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Bouska, announcing to us that the president had been shot. I’m not sure why my first grade memory has transposed itself in time into second grade, but there it is. Memory is unreliable.

So we have books—to record the memories and the events and keep us honest. A lot of the information in this book I either never knew or I didn’t remember. I had no idea that Kennedy was shot through the back of the head and his head either fell or was pulled into Jackie Kennedy’s lap where she held pieces of his brain in her hands all the way to Parkland Hospital. Gruesome. Then, it was also rather grisly and horrific to read that Jackie refused to change her blood-stained clothes all that day, saying repeatedly, “I want them to see what they’ve done.” People certainly do grieve and react in different ways to shocking, appalling events.

“History is more than a narrative of what happened at a particular moment in time—it is also the story of how events were reported to, and experienced by, the people who lived through them.” (For Further Reading, p.240) Mr. Swanson does a particularly good job of giving readers a feel for the time period and the way newspapers, magazines, radio, and television reported on the death of the president. Black and white photographs interspersed throughout the book add to the verisimilitude of the story, transporting readers into the early 1960’s when color television was still not in widespread use and newspapers and many magazines were filled with black and white photographs.

Swanson’s 2009 nonfiction tale of an assassination, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, was adapted from his adult book, Manhunt. “The President Has Been Shot!” was written specifically for the YA market, and it shines as an example of a nonfiction history narrative that doesn’t talk down to teen readers and yet keeps the detail to a level that suits young people who may be new to the subject of the Kennedy assassination. I highly recommend the book for students of history and politics who want a simple but thorough summary of the background of Kennedy’s presidency and the events surrounding and leading up to his assassination.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Well, this episode in history was news to me. At the same time, actually on election night, that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was in a neck-in-neck election race with Democrat Samuel Tilden, a group of counterfeiters became would-be grave robbers. Their plan was to steal the body of America’s favorite and perhaps most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, and hold it for ransom.

Although the grave robbers come across in the book as incompetent at best, criminally idiotic at worst, the plot was real, as were the guns the criminals carried to Lincoln’s tomb on that election night in 1876. They were serious, and the Secret Service agents who were determined to catch them red-handed were just as deadly serious. Not only does the reader get to read about a little known historical crime, but also we get a vocabulary lesson in criminal and counterfeiting jargon of the late nineteenth century. How many of the following words can you define? (There’s a glossary in the back of the book to help those of us who are unfamiliar with criminal underworld vocabulary.)

Boodle game or boodle carrier
Coney or coney man
Hanging bee
To pipe (someone)
Bone orchard

And what would you think of reading the following sentence in your local newspaper about a group of escaped criminals?

“If human ingenuity can track them it will be done. It is earnestly hoped that the double-distilled perpetrators of this attempted robbery of the remains of America’s most loved President will soon be brought to justice.” ~reporter John English in The Chicago Tribune

Double-distilled perpetrators? My, how writing styles have changed!

I enjoyed Lincoln’s Grave Robbers mostly as look into history and the almost comical antics of both criminals and police in the post-Civil War time period. The politicians and journalists were somewhat hapless and disorganized as well. On the other hand, I hope that counterfeiters nowadays are not as successful as they back in the late 1800’s. Sheinkin notes that “by 1864 an astounding 50 percent of the paper money in circulation was fake.” And “the one and only task of the Secret Service was to stop the counterfeiters.”

What does all this fake money have to do with stealing poor Mr. Lincoln’s bones? Well, there’s a connection, and it’s rather surprising–and ridiculous. I don’t know how the grave robbers thought they were going to get away with such a plot. But try they did, and you can read all about it in Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction. The thoughts in this review are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or evaluations of the Cybils panel or of any other Cybils judge.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

One of my children used to be particularly interested in naming and researching the four U.S. presidents who were assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. This book about the life, presidency, and assassination of President James Garfield would have been above her reading level since she was only 10 or 11 years old when she had the fascination with assassinated presidents, but it definitely is full of information about Garfield and would be absorbing for anyone with a similar interest.

Like Lincoln, Garfield grew up in poverty. He became an educated man by dint of hard work and his widowed mother’s sacrifice. He married a woman with whom he shared at best friendship, and only many years later, after Garfield had an affair and then re-committed to his marriage, did the two of them become partners in love in the truest sense. This part of the story alone is fascinating, a good example for our age of love’em and leave’em. (This breach of trust and reconciliation is documented in letters that Lucretia, his wife, kept and later left to his presidential library.)

But there are several other fascinating stories in this book:
the story of Vice President Chester Arthur and his conversion from party hack to presidential promoter of honesty and civil service reform.

the saga of Alexander Graham Bell’s desperate attempt to invent a medical device that would locate the bullet lodged inside President Garfield’s body before Garfield died.

the history of medical sterilization techniques that had not yet been accepted as standard practice in the U.S., contributing to the infection that eventually killed the president.

the sad (and currently relevant in light of the attention that is being focused on random shootings after Sandy Hook) story of the assassin, Charles Guiteau, who was obviously as mad as March hare but nevertheless cunning enough to plan a successful presidential assassination all by himself.

Candice Millard also wrote the book I read a couple of years ago about Theodore Roosevelt’s trip into the Amazon rainforest, River of Doubt, and my plan is to read anything she writes in the future. Ms. Millard, by the way, got her master’s degree in literature from Baylor University. Destiny of the Republic won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.

12 Projects for 2013

For several years now, I’ve been starting off the year with projects instead of resolutions. I don’t always complete my projects, but I enjoy starting them and working toward a goal. And I don’t feel guilty if I don’t finish. If I do finish, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Win-win. So, here are my twelve projects for 2013:

1. 100 Days in the Book of Isaiah. I’m really looking forward to this study along with my church family.

2. Reading Through West Africa. The countries of West Africa (according to my scheme) are Benin, Biafra (part of Nigeria), Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. That’s fourteen nations, if I include Biafra, and I would very much like to read at least one book from or about each country. If you have suggestions, please comment.

3. I’m working on a project with my church for a community/tutoring/library media center. This TED talk by author Dave Eggers was inspirational, although it’s not exactly what I have in mind. I am working more on a library and study center for homeschoolers and of course, it would be open to kids who are in public or private schools, too. A lot of my work will be in relation to the library, gathering excellent books and adding to the library and helping homeschool and other families to use the library to enrich their studies. I am also inspired by this library and others like it.

4. I want to concentrate on reading all the books on my TBR list this year –at least all of them that I can beg, borrow (from the library) or somehow purchase. I’ve already requested several of the books on my list from the library.

5. My Classics Club list is a sort of addendum to my TBR list, and I’d also like to read many of the books on that list. In 2012 I read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, and Memento Mori by Muriel Spark, three out of fifty-three, not a good average if I’m to be done with all of them by 2017.

6. I have house-keeping project that I’m almost embarrassed to mention here. I’ve started small–cleaning and sorting piles in a corner of my bedroom. I’d really like to continue cleaning, purging, and organizing around the perimeter of my bedroom and then the living room until eventually I get around the entire house. A project so ridiculously mundane and yet so needed.

7. I continue to work through this list of new-to-me recipes and through several cookbooks and other recipe sources for dishes I want to try this year. I would like to make one new dish per week, and maybe I can manage to “review” the meals and food I make here at Semicolon. If you have any extra-special recipes you think I should try, please leave a comment.

8. Praying for Strangers (and Friends) Project. I was quite impressed by my reading of River Jordan’s prayer project book, Praying for Strangers. I still can’t walk up to strangers and tell them that I’m praying for them or ask them for prayer requests. But in 2013 I hope to ask God to give me one person each day to focus on and to pray for. Maybe I’ll be praying for you one day this year. I have been much more consistent in praying for specific people this past year, and I hope to continue the practice.

9. U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I got David McCullough’s biography of Truman for Christmas in 2011, and I plan to read that chunkster during my Lenten blog break since I didn’t read it last year. I don’t know if I’ll read any other presidential biographies this year, but if I finish Truman I’ll be doing well.

10. The 40-Trash Bag Challenge. Starting tomorrow. My life needs this project.

11. 100 Movies of Summer. When we’re not traveling, which will be most of the summer, we might watch a few old classic but new-to-us movies. I’ll need to make a new list, since we’ve watched many of the ones on the list I linked to, but I hope to find a few gems this summer.

12. I got this Bible for Christmas (mine is red), and I’ve already begun transferring my notes from my old Bible into this new one and taking new notes. I just jot down whatever the Holy Spirit brings to mind with the intention of giving the Bible to one of my children someday.

The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. Recommended by Al Mohler.

Fascinating. I learned a lot about the presidents of the latter half of the twentieth century and their post-presidential lives.

I learned that both Truman and Hoover were at first rather neglected and forgotten after their respective presidencies were over, but that later presidents came to rely on them for advice and encouragement and sometimes (Hoover) help in carrying out humanitarian initiatives. According to the book, Hoover was great at organizing and carrying out post-war recovery programs to help refugees and starving people in the war zone, something he did after World War I and before he became president and after World War II, after he was president.

Johnson was a pain and a blowhard who nevertheless agonized over his role in escalating the Vietnam War. I don’t think I would have liked LBJ very much.

Nixon came across as a very complicated, arrogant, insecure, devious, and intelligent man. He knew a lot about the Russians, and thought he knew even more than he did. He advised presidents on foreign policy, towards the Soviet Union/Russia in particular, and he very much wanted to be recognized and admired for his contributions.

The authors depict Gerald Ford as a courageous man who knew that his pardon for Richard Nixon would heal the country and strengthen the presidency but knew also that it would seriously undermine his chances to serve as an elected president.

Carter was apparently a loose cannon, talented in diplomacy, but prone to go off on his own and cut his own deals without consulting the sitting president or the State Department. He practically worked miracles when he was sent on diplomatic missions to North Korea and to Haiti, but everyone back in the U.S., the president and all his advisors, was on high alert, wondering what he would do or say next.

George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton became close friends after their time as president was over, working together to raise money for disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina and after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Then, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton became friends and cooperated to raise funds for Haiti relief.

That’s the kind of stuff ex-presidents do, and the thesis of the book is that they form a sort of “club” made up of the very few people in the world who know what it’s like to deal with the pressures and responsibilities of being the president of the United States of America. They become concerned with their own legacy to some extent, but also with the guarding of the office of the presidency. So they cooperate with each other and with the president who is in office to protect the prestige and honor of the presidency, even while possibly disagreeing in fundamental ways about policy and politics.

What did Teddy Read?

“And it’s likely that no president will ever match the Rough Rider himself, who charged through multiple books in a single day and wrote more than a dozen well-regarded works, on topics ranging from the War of 1812 to the American West.” ~For Obama and past presidents, the books they read shape policies and perceptions by Trevi Troy, April 18 2010, The Washington Post

I’ve read about U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt in at least three separate books, and these are just a few of the works I’ve seen on his reading list:

Aechylus’ Orestean trilogy.
Seven Against Thebes by Sophocles.
Hippolytus and Bacchae by Euripides.
Frogs by Aristophanes.
Shakespeare: Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Henry IV, Henry V, Richard II,

The Heir of Redclyffe by
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.
The Boy Hunters by Captain Reid
The Hunters’ Feast by Captain Reid.
The Scalp Hunters by Captain Reid.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
Sebastopol Sketches by Leo Tolstoy.
The Cossacks by Leo Tolstoy.
With Fire and Sword (Polish: Ogniem i mieczem) by Henryk Sienkiewicz. (I want to read this classic historical novel of 17th century Poland.)
In the Sargasso Sea by Thomas Janvier.
Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott.
The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott.
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott.
Waverly by Sir Walter Scott.
Quentin Durward by Sir Walter Scott. (Does anyone read Scott, other than Ivanhoe, these days?)
Stories and poems by Bret Harte.
Tom Sawyerr by Mark Twain.
Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.
Pendennis by William Makepeace Thackeray.
The Newcomes by William Makepeace Thackeray.
The Adventures of Philip by William Makepeace Thackeray.
The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Charles O’Malley by Charles Lever.
Tittlebat Titmouse by Samuel Warren.
Stories by Artemus Ward.
Stories and essays by Octave Thanet (Alice French).
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
The stories of Hans Christian Anderson. (TR read these aloud to his children.)
Grimm’s fairy tales. (And these.)
Howard Pyle’s King Arthur.
Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories.
Other authors: Tarkington (Penrod?), Churchill (Richard Carvel or The Crisis?), Remington, Wister (The Virginian?), Trevelyan, Conrad (Lord Jim?),

The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott.
Marmion by Sir Walter Scott.
Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott.
The Flight of the Duchess by Robert Browning
The first two cantos of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Poems by Michael Drayton. (“There are only two or three I care for,” wrote TR.)
Portions of the Nibelungenleid.
Church’s Beowulf.
Morris’ translation of the Heimskringla.
Miss Hill’s Cuchulain Saga, together with The Children of Lir, The Children of Turin, The Tale of Deirdre, etc.
Other poets: Keats, Browning, Poe,Tennyson, Longfellow, Kipling, Bliss Carman, Lowell, R.L. Stevenson, Allingham,

Parts of Herodotus.
The first and seventh books of Thucydides.
All of Polybius.
A little of Plutarch.
Parts of The Politics of Aristotle.
Froissart on French history.
The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot.
Charles XII and the collapse of the Swedish empire, 1682-1719 by R. Nisbet Bain.
Essays by Macaulay.
Types of Naval Officers by A.T. Mahan.
Over the Teacups (essays) by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (TR called Holmes, Jr., the son of the author, “one of the most interesting men I have ever met.”)
Abraham Lincoln: A History by John Hay and John G. Nicolay. (Hay was Roosevelt’s Secretary of State until Hay’s death in 1905. Hay was also, as a young man, Lincoln’s assistant and private secretary. Isn’t it odd to think that the same man knew both Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln?)
Two volumes of Speeches and Writings by Abraham Lincoln.
Shakespeare and Voltaire by Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury. (490 pages)
Six volumes of Mahaffey’s Studies of the Greek World.
Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa by David Livingstone.
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
Catalogue of North American Birds by Spencer Fullerton Baird.
Review of American BIrds
North American Reptiles
Catalogue of North American Mammals
My reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer war By Benjamin Johannis Viljoen.
Birds and bees and other studies in nature by John Burroughs.
John James Audubon by John Burroughs.
Malay Sketches by Frank Swettenham.

THis list is just a sampling of TR’s reading. He is generally acknowledged, along with THomas Jefferson, to be best read of all the American presidents.

Gleaned from the Saturday Review and Other Places

Thanks to Carrie for pointing me to this review of Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. I’m intrigued by the idea of this book about an author who decides to choose one stranger to pray for each day. My first thought after reading about Ms. Jordan’s resolution was, “I could do that!” Then, I read at her blog that Ms. Jordan not only prays for a stranger each day, but she also often feels led to tell the person that she will be praying and asks for prayer requests. That’s a little more intimidating. See, I’m really rather shy and reserved. The idea of going up to a complete stranger and telling them that I’ll be praying for them is, well, actually terrifying. So I’ve been praying for a stranger each day for the past three days, but I haven’t told anyone about it, especially not the person I prayed for, until I wrote this post.

I also downloaded the book for my Kindle and started reading it today. I’m intrigued, and I can see the benefit to me and to others of actually talking, getting my stranger’s name, and telling the person that I’ll be praying for him or her. I’m just not sure I have enough courage to do it. Maybe in the pages of Ms. Jordan’s book, I’ll find the gumption and unselfishness to move me to talk to strangers. Maybe I’ll just continue to talk to God about the people He brings across my path. Either way I’m expecting God to work through this prayer thing, even though I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really understand how or why prayer works.

On another note, I found a few other books at Borders and at Barnes and Noble that I’d like to read soon. I didn’t buy anything, but I’ll be looking for these books at the library soon:

Decision Points by George W. Bush. I’m a Bush fangirl, and I’ve been meaning to read his book. But I sort of forgot about it, so I was happy to be reminded whe I saw it in the bookstore.
Truman by David McCullough. Another president, another biography by the author of John Adams. I expect to enjoy learning more about Mr. Truman when I get around to this one.
The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards by Jim Steinmeyer. I heard the author of this book talking about Thurston and Houdini on NPR, and I thought then that I would like to read the book. However, it’s another one I had forgotten until I saw it displayed in the bookstore.
Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization by Leil Leibovitz and Matthew Miller. “In 1872, under the auspices of the Chinese Educational Mission, 120 Chinese boys were sent to the U.S. to attend elite colleges, absorb the best this mysterious country could offer, and return to enrich China with their experiences and knowledge.” (Booklist) Why does this subject sound so fascinating to me?
The First Clash: The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and Its Impact on Western Civilization by Jim Lacey. And this one, too?

Right now, in addition to the prayer book, I’m reading a book about Louisa and John Quincy Adams called Cannibals of the Heart: A Personal Biography of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams. The book is annoying me in some ways because the author, Jim Shepherd, seems to have no sympathy for John Quincy Adams at all. In fact, his portrayal of JQA makes one wonder how in the world he ever would have managed to get a job as local dogcatcher much less world famous diplomat, senator, U.S. president, and legislator. Mr. Shepherd likes Louisa a lot more and tries to induce his readers to feel sorry for her and her lot as an early nineteenth century woman, enslaved and dominated by the men in her life, especially the irascible Mr. Adams. I’m sure she was in a pitiable state and one at which I would have chafed, but Mr. Shepherd’s obvious and heavy-handed partisanship makes me want to take JQA’s side just to be contrary. Still, I’m finding the life story of of this Washington power couple to be full of interest and excitement, not to mention historical significance. I’ll be writing more about the Adams family soon, I’m sure.

I will finish my posts on the 40 Inspirational Classics for Lent, too. I’ve been in the midst of a blogging block or dry spell or something the past few days, so my 40 Classics posts may go past Easter and into the time of feasting after Easter. But that’s OK with me.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, Nashville, TN, 1828

From the biography, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham:

Shortly after nine on the evening of Monday, December 22, three days before Christmas, Rachel [Jackson] suffered an apparent heart attack. It was over. Still, Jackson kept vigil, her flesh turning cold to his touch as he stroked her forehead. With his most awesome responsibilities and burdens at hand she left him. ‘My mind is so disturbed . . . that I can scarcely write, in short my dear friend my heart is nearly broke,’ Jackson told his confidant John Coffee after Rachel’s death.

At one o’clock on Christmas Eve afternoon, by order of the mayor, Nashville’s church bells began ringing in tribute to Rachel, who was to be buried in her garden in the shadow of the Hermitage. The weather had been wet, and the dirt in the garden was soft; the rain made the gravediggers’ task a touch easier as they worked. After a Presbyterian funeral service led by Rachel’s minister, Jackson walked the one hundred fifty paces back to the house. Devastated but determined, he then spoke to the mourners. ‘I am now the President elect of the United States, and in a short time must take my way to the metropolis of my country; and, if it had been God’s will, I would have been grateful for the privilege of taking her to my post of honor and seating her by my side; but Providence knew what was best for her.'”

Today’s Gifts
A song: In the Bleak Midwinter, lyrics by Christian Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst.

A booklist: Biographies of the U.S. Presidents (books I’m planning to read)

A birthday: Christina Rossetti, b.1830.
Walt Disney, b. 1901.

A poem: Love Came Down at Christmas by Christina Rossetti.

Books About Teddy

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough.

River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.

Theodore Roosevelt is one of my fascinations. I read McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback back in March, but I never got around to reviewing it. It was a lovely narrative biography of the young Teddy Roosevelt and a good attempt to bring to light some of the influences and experiences in his childhood and youth that made Teddy Roosevelt the man he became. However, the book stops rather abruptly just as young Theodore is on the brink of his national political career. I was primed and eager for more “Teedy” after reading Mornings.

A few Teddy-isms:

“For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison.”

“There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live – I have no use for the sour-faced man – and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.”

“Don’t hit at all if you can help it; don’t hit a man if you can possibly avoid it; but if you do hit him, put him to sleep.”

“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

“I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” Teddy’s response to a request to better control the behavior of his eldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

“I don’t think any President ever enjoyed himself more than I did. Moreover, I don’t think any ex-President ever enjoyed himself more.”

“If I’m to go, it’s all right. You see that the others don’t stop for me . . . I’ve the shortest span of life ahead of any in the party. If anyone is to die here, I must be the one.”

That last statement was made to a member of Roosevelt’s expedition through the Amazon when Roosevelt was so seriously ill with fever and infection that he was not expected to survive to complete the journey of exploration. On this expedition Theodore Roosevelt was 55 years old, and until his leg became infected he could keep up with or outlast any man in the group.

Theodore Roosevelt became president at forty-two, when William McKinley was assassinated. Although he wasn’t the youngest man ever elected president (that was Kennedy, age 43), Teddy was the youngest to become president. When TR’s second term was over, he was still only fifty years old, making him the youngest ex-president, too.

T.R., b. 1858, is my favorite of all the presidents. I don’t say he was the best or the wisest or the one I would most agree with politically, but he would definitely be the most interesting dinner guest of all the presidents. He was a talented politician and statesman, but he was also real and straightforward and ingenuous. That’s an amazing combination.

What people said about Teddy Roosevelt:

“Look out for Theodore. He’s not strong, but he’s all grit. He’ll kill himself before he’ll even say he’s tired.” ~A doctor who knew young Teddy Roosevelt.

“Now look–that d— cowboy is President of the United States!” ~Senator Mark Hanna after hearing of McKinley’s assassination.”

“You must always remember that the President (TR) is about six.” ~Cecil Spring RIce

“One subject I do know, and ought to know, is the birds. It has been one of the main studies of a long life He (TR) knew the subject as well as I did, while he knew with the same thoroughness scores of other subjects of which I am entirely ignorant.” ~Naturalist John Burroughs.

“Mr. Roosevelt is the Tom Sawyer of the political world of the twentieth century; always showing off; always hunting for a chance to show off; in his frenzied imagination the Great Republic is a vast Barnum circus with him for a clown and the whole world for audience; he would go to Halifax for half a chance to show off and he would go to hell for a whole one.” ~Mark Twain

“And talk! I never saw a man who talked so much. He would talk all the time he was in swimming, all of the time during meals, traveling in the canoe and at night around the camp fire. He talked endlessly and on all conceivable subjects.” ~Brazilian Colonel Candido Rondon who led with TR an expedition down the previously unexplored River of Doubt in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

“The truth is, he believes in war and wishes to be a Napoleon and to die on the battle field. He has the spirit of the old berserkers.” ~William Howard Taft.

Teddy Roosevelt “read so rapidly that he had to plan very carefully in order to have enough books to last him through a trip.” ~Roosevelt’s son, Kermit.

“Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.” ~Thomas R. Marshall, Vice-president of the U.S.

“Never before has it been so hard for me to accept the death of any man as it has been for me to accept the death of Theodore Roosevelt. A pall seems to settle upon the very sky. The world is bleaker and colder for his absence from it. We shall not look upon his like again.” ~John Burroughs

I saw River of Doubt at a bookstore in South Dakota, and I had to buy it. After viewing Teddy’s unmistakeable visage on Mount Rushmore and then seeing the Badlands Teddy’s old stomping grounds, I had to read about this Amazonian journey of exploration undertaken after Roosevelt’s disappointing loss in a bid for a third term as president. Teddy Roosevelt was intrepid and courageous to a fault, and he lived for adventure. At the age of 55 a trip down an unexplored South American river in canoes passing through the territory of savage and violent native tribal peoples who had never seen a white man before should have been out of the question. And the fact that the trip almost ended Roosevelt’s life makes it all the more fascinating.

I’m still reading the my third book about Theodore Roosevelt, a biography that begins with TR’s sudden elevation to the presidency. I’m finding it just as interesting and inspiring as the other two were. I’m not tempted to undertake any physical feats of daring and bravery, but I do want to live as passionately as Teddy Roosevelt. Don’t you know that heaven itself is a more lively and passion-filled place because God created Theodore Roosevelt and took him to explore the universe of God’s creation?