American Boys' Life of Theodore Roosevelt/Chapter 2
The instincts of the hunter must have been born in Theodore Roosevelt. His first gun was given to him when he was ten years of age, and for the time being his books and his studies were forgotten, and he devoted his whole time and attention to shooting at a target set up in the garden of the country home and in going out with the older folks after such small game as were to be found in that vicinity.
The horses on the place were his pets, and he knew the peculiarities of each as well as did the man who cared for them. Riding and driving came to him as naturally as breathing, and the fact that a steed was mettlesome did not daunt him.
"My father often drove four-in-hand," he has said. "I liked very much to go with him, and I liked to drive, too."
Theodore Roosevelt's schoolboy days were not far out of the ordinary. He studied hard, and if he failed in a lesson he did his best to make it up the next time. It is well said that there is no royal road to learning, and even a future President must study just as hard as his classmates if he wants to keep up with them. Sometimes he was absent from school on account of sickness, and then it was a sharp struggle to keep from dropping behind.
"In those days nobody expected Teddy Roosevelt to amount to a great deal," some one has said. "He was thin, pale, and delicate, and suffered with his eyes. But he pulled through, and when he took to athletics, it was wonderful how he got stronger."
By his intimate companions, and indeed by nearly everybody who knew him, he was called Teddy, and this nickname clung to him when he went forth into the great world to become a governor and a president. How the nickname came first into use is not known.
Since those schoolboy days Mr. Roosevelt has been asked this question:—
"What did you expect to be, or dream of being, when you were a boy?"
"I do not recollect that I dreamed at all or planned at all," was the answer. "I simply obeyed the injunction, 'Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do that with all thy might,' and so I took up what came along as it came."
In 1876, while the great Centennial Exhibition was being held at Philadelphia in commemoration of one hundred years of national liberty, Theodore Roosevelt took up his residence at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and became a student at Harvard College. During the previous year his health had been poor indeed, but now he had taken hold of himself in earnest.
"I determined to be strong and well, and did everything to make myself so," he has said. "By the time I entered Harvard I was able to take part in whatever sports I liked."
As perhaps some of my readers know, Harvard College (now termed a University) is the oldest and largest institution of learning in the United States. It was founded in 1636, and among its graduates numbered John Quincy Adams, sixth President of our country. The college proper is located in Cambridge, but some of the attached schools are in Boston.
Theodore Roosevelt was rich enough to have lived in elegant style while at Harvard, but he preferred unostentatious quarters, and took two rooms in the home of Benj. H. Richardson, at what was then No. 16 and is now No. 88 Winthrop Street. The residence is a neat and comfortable one, standing on the southwest corner of Winthrop and Holyoke streets.
The young student had two rooms on the second floor,—one of good size, used for a study, and a small bedroom. In the whole four years he was at the college he occupied these rooms, and he spent a great deal of time in fixing them up to suit his own peculiar taste. On the walls were all sorts of pictures and photographs, along with foils and boxing-gloves, and the horns of wild animals. On a shelf rested some birds which he had himself stuffed, and books were everywhere.
"It was a regular den, and typical of Roosevelt to the last degree," a student of those times has said. "He had his gun there and his fishing rod, and often spoke of using them. He was noted for trying to get at the bottom of things, and I remember him well on one occasion when I found him with a stuffed bird in one hand and a natural history in the other, trying to decide if the description in the volume covered the specimen before him." When Roosevelt graduated from college, he was one of a very few that took honors, and the subject of his essay was natural history. How his love of natural history continued will be shown later when we see him as a ranchman and hunter of the West.
Theodore Roosevelt had decided to make the most of himself, and while at Harvard scarcely a moment was wasted. If he was not studying, he was in the gymnasium or on the field, doing what he could to make himself strong. He was a firm believer in the saying that a sound body makes a sound mind, and he speedily became a good boxer, wrestler, jumper, and runner. He wrestled a great deal, and of this sport says:—
"I enjoyed it immensely and never injured myself. I think I was a good deal of a wrestler, and though I never won a championship, yet more than once I won my trial heats and got into the final rounds."
At running he was equally good. "I remember once we had a stiff run out into the country," said a fellow-student. "Roosevelt was behind at the start, but when all of the others got played out he forged ahead, and in the end he beat us by several minutes. But he never bragged about it. You see, it wasn't his style."
With all his other sports, and his studying, the young collegian did not give up his love for driving. He had a good horse and a fancy cart,—one of the elevated sort with large wheels,—and in this turnout he was seen many a day, driving wherever it pleased him to go. Sometimes he would get on the road with other students, and then there was bound to be more or less racing.
With a strong love for natural history it was not surprising that he joined the Natural History Club of the college, and of this he was one of the most active members. He also joined the Athletic Association, of which he was a steward, and the Art Club, the Rifle Corps, the O.K. Society, and the Finance Club. In his senior year he became a member of the Porcellhan Club, the Hasty Pudding, and the Alpha Delta Phi Club, and also one of the editors of a college paper called the Advocate. On Sundays he taught a class of boys, first in a mission school, and then in a Congregational Sunday school. It was a life full of planning, full of study, and full of work, and it suited Theodore Roosevelt to the last degree.
As he grew older his love of natural history was supplemented by a love for the history of nations, and particularly by a love of the history of his own country. The war of 1812 interested him intensely, and before he graduated he laid plans for writing a history of this war, which should go into all the details of the memorable naval conflicts.
It was while in his third year at Harvard that Theodore Roosevelt suffered the first heavy affliction of his life. On February 9, 1878, his father died. It was a cruel blow to the family, and one from which the faithful wife scarcely recovered. The son at Harvard felt his loss greatly, and it was some time before he felt able to resume his studies. The elder Roosevelt's work as a philanthropist was well known, and many gathered at his bier to do him honor, while the public journals were filled with eulogies of the man. The poor mourned bitterly that he was gone, and even the newsboys were filled with regret over his taking away. In speaking of his parent, President Roosevelt once said: "I can remember seeing him going down Broadway, staid and respectable business man that he was, with a poor sick kitten in his coat pocket, which he had picked up in the street." Such a man could not but have a heart overflowing with goodness.
While at college Theodore Roosevelt often showed that self-reliance for which he has since become famous. To every study that he took up he applied himself closely, and if he was not at the head of the class, he was by no means near the foot. When he was sure of a thing, no amount of argument could convince him that he was wrong, and he did not hesitate at times to enter into a discussion even with some of the professors over him.
Although a close student, and also a good all-round athlete, Theodore Roosevelt did not forget his social opportunities. Boston was but a short distance from his rooms in Cambridge, and thither he often went to visit the people he had met or to whom he had letters of introduction. He was always welcome, for his manner was a winning one, and he usually had something to tell that was of interest—something of what he had seen or done, of the next foot-ball or base-ball game, of the coming boat races, of his driving or exploring, or of how he had added a new stuffed bird to his collection, or a new lizard, and of how a far-away friend had sent him a big turtle as a souvenir of an ocean trip in the South Seas. There is a story that this big turtle got loose one night and alarmed the entire household by crawling through the hallway, looking for a pond or mud-hole in which to wallow. At first the turtle was mistaken for a burglar, but he soon revealed himself by his angry snapping, and it was hard work making him a prisoner once more.