Biography of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

Daring Greatly

One of the few things that I planned to do when I retired was to read Edmund Morris’ monumental three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt.   I had been curious about the life of our twenty-sixth President for some time, and I bought the Morris set months before I retired.

Not long after my retirement date, I began reading the biography, and eventually I completed that part of my retirement plan.  One of the best known Roosevelt quotes came from a speech he delivered after his presidency.

Roosevelt, anticipating his retirement from office, planned a nine-month African safari.  Now, that’s a retirement plan!  Teddy did not mess around.  After completing his hike through Africa, Roosevelt toured Europe during the spring of 1910.  On April 23, he delivered a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris.  As Morris describes, Roosevelt’s audience of some 900 students and 2,000 ticket-holders gave the loudest applause “when he attacked skeptics ‘of lettered leisure’ who, cloistered in academe, ‘sneered’ at anyone trying to make the real world better.”  Although Roosevelt himself was surprised by the success of the speech, it almost immediately gained fame for the following lines:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

When I read these words in the biography, I realized that I had read them before.  I recalled that a colleague had framed this quotation and had hung it on the wall of his office.  My colleague, himself, was one who “dared greatly.” He devoted his professional career as a lawyer to many worthy causes, even when others considered his efforts to be foolhardy.  The words on his wall were both a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt and an apt epitaph for the man I knew.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the greatest presidents our country has ever had.  It is not a mistake that his image is carved on Mount Rushmore alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.  He was in many ways a remarkable man, and could justly be considered the first president of the modern era.  Reading about his life was an inspiring beginning to my own next chapter.

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