The former president’s personality was part of the national wealth.
Mr. Roosevelt’s great and fascinating personality is part of the national wealth, and it should, so far as possible, be preserved undiminished. Since his death those who have spoken of him have observed somewhat too sedulously the questionable maxim De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. To say nothing but good of a great man is generally fatal alike to biographical vivacity and to truth. In this case it is a serious detraction from that versatile and inexhaustible energy which Lord Morley admired when he declared that the two most extraordinary works of nature in America were Niagara Falls and the President in the White House. “He made,” says William Hard with the intensity of one catching breath after the close passage of a thunderbolt, “he made Theodore Roosevelt the most interesting thing in the world,” and he made “the world itself momentarily immortally interesting.” That touches the heart of the matter: it explains comprehensively why his friends loved and his enemies admired him. It leaves him with his aggressive definiteness, his color, and his tang. Mr. Roosevelt, as he proudly insisted and as he admirably painted himself in many a capital chapter of his “Rough Riders” and his hunting and exploring books, was stained with the blood and sweat and dust of conflict. No image presents him whole that lacks a dash of the recklessness which appears in Frederick Macmonnies’s vaulting trooper and a touch of the ruthlessness hinted by the fiercely clenched fist in a well-known photograph of him pacing the deck of the flagship with “Fighting Bob” Evans. He lived and died fighting, and he gave a thousand proofs that the keenest joy he knew was the joy of battle. No memorial so little preserves him as a white-washed plaster bust. Better than all the eulogies pronounced in public places I suspect he would have relished the tribute paid to him in private conversation by one of our distinguished visitors from abroad. “It may be,” he said, “that Mr. Wilson possesses all the virtues in the calendar; but for my part I had rather go to hell with Theodore Roosevelt.” Mr. Wilson, he implied, might get off in a corner somewhere with Saint Peter and Colonel House, and arrange something of the highest importance to the heavenly host; but all the cherubim and seraphim of healthy curiosity would be leaning over the impassable gulf to see what Mr. Roosevelt would do next.