How Mark and Teddy complemented each other
- Last Updated: 4:26 AM, July 22, 2012
- Posted: 10:13 PM, July 21, 2012
and the Colonel
Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century
by Philip McFarland
Rowman & Littlefield
One was a colonel. The other dressed like Colonel Sanders. One preached the manly virtues of “the strenuous life,” the other ran away from the Civil War and cracked wise from an armchair. They didn’t like each other. Mark Twain on Teddy Roosevelt: “far and away the worst President we have ever had.” Teddy Roosevelt on Mark Twain: the man should be skinned alive.
The interplay between the two gargantuan lives leads biographer Philip McFarland to some fascinating trivia and unexpected role-reversals. “Mark Twain and the Colonel” points out that Wave Hill, a mansion Twain rented in 1902 at 675 W. 252nd St. in the Riverdale section of The Bronx, also once served as a country retreat for “Teedie” (as he was known) and his family when the future president was a teen.
More interestingly, TR, the great trust-buster, took on Standard Oil — one of whose leaders, H.H. Rogers, was Twain’s best friend. Twain even defended the company and its founder John D. Rockefeller, accusing Roosevelt of “hostility to the corporations.” And though Roosevelt harbored racist sentiments, he broke with a shameful tradition to invite a black man — Booker T. Washington — to dine at the White House. Twain, whom we remember as the racially enlightened author of “Huckleberry Finn,” told Roosevelt that welcoming Washington was a mistake “because the act would give offense to so many people when no profit to the country was to be gained by offending them.”
It’s the relationship between the two titans’ politics and their private lives that raise the most intriguing questions, though. Roosevelt, the imperialist, was at home the most benevolent of rulers. Twain, an outspoken peacenik on the world stage, could be selfish and neurotic with his family.
Each man lost his wife, but the circumstances were very different, as were the widowers’ reactions. Twain was consumed with guilt about his beloved Livy’s death. He was a heavy smoker who had puffed along heedlessly as she suffered from bronchitis and asthma and eventually died of a respiratory ailment. Twain was obsessed with a road journey when, her health faltering, Livy wanted to stop and rest in a sanitarium but he insisted on continuing to drive through rain and lightning, of which she was terrified. After her death, he continued to agonize about it.
When Roosevelt lost his 22-year-old wife, Alice, in childbirth (and his 48-year-old mother, in the same West 57th Street house, on the same day) he had almost nothing to say about the devastation except for a single line in his diary (“The light has gone out of my life”). Roosevelt locked away his anguish.
Because of their emotional qualities and for other reasons, McFarland labels Roosevelt’s family “masculine” and Twain’s “feminine.” As a father to his four boys and two girls, Teddy was superb. “However busy he was in life, whether on his way to war in Cuba or managing the affairs of the nation, he had written to each of his absent children at least once a week,” writes McFarland. “To read the letters that a doting Roosevelt wrote to his half-dozen children is to feel the richness, joy and love that invested the man’s private life.” All six children grew up “fearless through life, independent-minded and determined to win,” says McFarland.
Twain was also a loving father (of three daughters), and yet his temper and his foul moods often got the best of him. One daughter said he was in the habit of “creating day or night for those about him by his twinkling eyes or clouded brows.” Another thought of him as “moody, irascible, short-tempered and vain,” says McFarland, and avoided Twain after her mother’s death. Twain himself admitted being guilty of “a million things whereby I have brought misfortune and sorrow to this family.”
Twain, the renowned humanist and citizen of the world, thought globally, but was often less than admirable when dealing with humanity in units smaller than a million. Roosevelt may have invaded foreign lands and bent them to his will, but in his personal life he radiated benevolence.
The personal is political, our liberal friends never tire of reminding us. But Twain and Roosevelt are two of the many who show us the wisdom of a line by Charles Dickens (another tribune of the downtrodden who was cruel to loved ones): Charity begins at home.Follow @NYPostOpinion