Mornings on Horseback : The Story of an Extraordinary Faimly, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt
Winner of the 1982 National Book Award for Biography, Mornings on Horseback is the brilliant biography of the young Theodore Roosevelt. Hailed as a masterpiece by Newsday, it also won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography. Now with a new introduction by the author, Mornings on Horseback is reprinted as a Simon & Schuster Classic Edition.
Mornings on Horseback is about the world of the young Theodore Roosevelt. It is the story of a remarkable little boy, seriously handicapped by recurrent and nearly fatal attacks of asthma, and his struggle to manhood: an amazing metamorphosis seen in the context of the very uncommon household (and rarefied social world) in which he was raised.
His father is the first Theodore Roosevelt, "Greatheart," a figure of unbounded energy, enormously attractive and selfless, a god in the eyes of his small, frail namesake. His mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, is a Southerner and celebrated beauty, but also considerably more, which the book makes clear as never before. There are sisters Anna and Corinne, brother Elliott (who becomes the father of Eleanor Roosevelt), and the lovely, tragic Alice Lee, Teddy Roosevelt's first love. And while such disparate figures as Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. John Jacob Astor, and Senator Roscoe Conkling play a part, it is this diverse and intensely human assemblage of Roosevelts, all brought to vivid life, which gives the book its remarkable power.
The book spans seventeen years -- from 1869 when little "Teedie" is ten, to 1886 when, as a hardened "real life cowboy," he returns from the West to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and begin anew, a grown man, whole in body and spirit. The story does for Teddy Roosevelt what Sunrise at Campobello did for FDR -- reveals the inner man through his battle against dreadful odds.
Like David McCullough's The Great Bridge, also set in New York, this is at once an enthralling story, with all the elements of a great novel, and a penetrating character study. It is brilliant social history and a work of important scholarship, which does away with several old myths and breaks entirely new ground. For the first time, for example, Roosevelt's asthma is examined closely, drawing on information gleaned from private Roosevelt family papers and in light of present-day knowledge of the disease and its psychosomatic aspects.
At heart it is a book about life intensely lived...about family love and family loyalty...about courtship and childbirth and death, fathers and sons...about winter on the Nile in the grand manner and Harvard College...about gutter politics in washrooms and the tumultuous Republican Convention of 1884...about grizzly bears, grief and courage, and "blessed" mornings on horseback at Oyster Bay or beneath the limitless skies of the Badlands. "Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough," Roosevelt once wrote. It is the key to his life and to much that is so memorable in this magnificent book.
- Pulitzer Prize
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Simon & Schuster
May 30, 2001
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Excerpt from Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
In the year 1869, when the population of New York City had reached nearly a million, the occupants of 28 East 20th Street, a five-story brownstone, numbered six, exclusive of the servants.
The head of the household was Theodore Roosevelt (no middle name or initial), who was thirty-seven years of age, an importer and philanthropist, and the son of old Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, one of the richest men in the city. Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt -- Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, or Mittie, as she was called -- was thirty-three, a southerner and a beauty. The children, two girls and two boys, all conceived by the same father and mother, and born in the same front bedroom, over the parlor, ranged in age from fourteen to seven. The oldest, Anna, was known as Bamie (from bambina, and pronounced to rhyme with Sammy). Next came ten-year-old Theodore, Jr., who was called Teedie (pronounced to rhyme with T.D.). Elliott, aged nine, was Ellie or Nell, and the youngest, Corinne, was called Conie.
Of the servants little is known, except for Dora Watkins, an Irish nursemaid who had been employed since before the Civil War. Another Irish girl named Mary Ann was also much in evidence, beloved by the children and well regarded by the parents -- it was she they picked to go with the family on the Grand Tour that May -- but in family papers dating from the time, nobody bothered to give Mary Ann a last name. Concerning the others, the various cooks, valets, coachmen, and housemaids who seem to have come and gone with regularity, the record is no help. But to judge by the size of the house and the accepted standards for families of comparable means and station, there were probably never less than four or five "below stairs" at any given time, and the degree to which they figured in the overall atmosphere was considerable.
The house stood in the block between Broadway and Fourth Avenue, on the south side of the street, and it looked like any other New York brownstone, a narrow-fronted, sober building wholly devoid of those architectural niceties (marble sills, fanlights) that enlivened the red-brick houses of an earlier era downtown. The standard high stoop with cast-iron railings approached a tall front door at the second-floor level, the ground floor being the standard English basement, with its servants' entrance. A formal parlor (cut-glass chandelier, round-arched marble fireplace, piano) opened onto a long, narrow hall, as did a parlor or "library," this a windowless room remembered for its stale air and look of "gloomy respectability." The dining room was at the rear, again according to the standard floor plan. Upstairs were the master bedroom and nursery, then three more bedrooms on the floor above, with the servants' quarters on the top floor.
Only one thing about the house was thought to be out of the ordinary, a deep porch, or piazza, at the rear on the third-floor level. Enclosed with a nine-foot wooden railing, it had been a bedroom before the Roosevelts tore out the back wall and converted it to an open-air playroom. It overlooked not only their own and neighboring yards, but the garden of the Goelet mansion on 19th Street, one of the largest private gardens in the city, within which roamed numbers of exotic birds with their wings clipped. Daily, in their "piazza clothes," the children were put out to play or, in Bamie's case, in early childhood, to lie on a sofa.
The house had been a wedding present from Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt -- CVS to the family -- whose own red-brick mansion on Union Square, six blocks south, was the figurative center of the Roosevelt tribal circle. The father of five sons, CVS had presented them all with houses as they married and the one given Theodore, youngest of his five, adjoined that of Robert B. Roosevelt, the fourth son, who was a lawyer.