Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children, edited by Joseph Bucklin Bishop, is a delightfully charming book! Roosevelt had 6 children, and he made it a habit to write to them once a week if they were away at school or if he was away from home. The letters in this book were written between May 1898 and December 1911. Most of them are from his White House years. A few of the letters are to family and friends, and they are interesting in that they are a window on what was going on in the Roosevelt family, such as their Christmas celebrations. Roosevelt sometimes included comical illustrations, which are reproduced in this book. Shortly before he died, Roosevelt helped with the planning of this book and claimed that "'I would rather have this book published than anything that has ever been written about me.'"
Letters to His Children is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, it's a fun way to read about his White House years. TR writes to his children of many important events, like his secret negotiations for a peace between warring Japan and Russia. But TR always claimed that no family enjoyed the White House as much as his, and that also comes through in his letters. He writes about daily walks in the White House gardens and horse rides through Rock Creek Park. He also describes the many games that he played with his sons and their friends in the White House: "We had obstacle races, hide-and-go-seek, blind-man's bluff, and everything else." His children often ambushed him with pillows for a good pillow-fight. He writes to Archie about Mike, a "delightful new dog," who is "an extraordinary ratter, and kills a great many rats in the White House, in the cellars and on the lower floor among the machinery." We learn about Quentin riding his horse to school in Washington, DC and about Quentin and his mischievous friends putting spit-balls on the White House portraits.
As Roosevelt's sons get older, his letters start to offer more advice. When Ted wants to play football, TR tries to get his son to put sports in the proper perspective. "I am delighted to have you play football. I believe in rough, manly sports. But I don not believe in them if they degenerate into the sole end of any one's existence. I don't want you to sacrifice standing well in your studies to any over-athleticism; and I need not tell you that character counts for a great deal more than either intellect or body in winning success in life. Athletic proficiency is a mighty good servant, and like so many other good servants, a mighty bad master." He also tries to talk Ted out of going to West Point or the Naval Academy. TR believes that without a war, his son would have little chance of advancement in the military.
Letters to His Children is a testament to TR's love for his children, his wife, and his family "and for all living things, birds, animals, trees, flowers, and nature in all moods and aspects. But the love of children and family and home was above all." Perhaps in the end, this becomes his most important legacy.