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2. Youth

“See here, Roosevelt, let me talk, I’m running this course.” - a Harvard professor

ADD or The Artistic Temperament?
Actual hyperactivity disorder or ADD is severe enough to prevent a child from learning, at least not without a great deal of help. A former teacher begged me not to call what Mozart, Robert Schumann and Pablo Picasso had - Attention Deficit Disorder. It is NOT really a problem and it makes the person more creative. Whatever it is includes writers, composers, artists and anyone who performs their job creatively and efficiently. So I'll call it the artistic temperament. The artistic temperament may include mood swings but I won't call them manic depressive either.

Everyone to begin with, is mentally ill, neurotic, from teenage years on. Our job in this life is to outgrow our mental illness. So TR may have had anxiety attacks as a teenager but he spent his whole life working on his mental and physical health, just like the rest of us have to do. His life is sort of an allegory, which we can use as a map in order to trace how to live our own life.

The person with the artistic temperament is the type of person who is so sane that he puts the "normal" person to shame.

He/she is considered by Buddhists to be very holy - a person very close to enlightenment.

People accused of having the artistic temperament include past and present presidents, composers, painters, writers and other creative types.

The person is very efficient. He doesn't waste time just exercising. He exercises and conducts business meetings simultaneously. As President, Theodore played tennis with his cabinet and diplomats. He also was shaved, wrote letters and read a book all at the same time.

Theodore said the evil are efficient also. But the evil are only aware of the material world while the good have some higher purpose in life. (Thus the good are stronger.)

The person with artistic temperament dares to go up in an airplane and down in a submarine. He hunts lions and tigers, reads and writes incessantly, explores new lands, pioneers new air routes and parachutes out of "a perfectly good airplane."

The person with artistic temperament needs constant practice in order to learn but once she learns something, she becomes truly inspired, "touched with divine fire." She is always studying, always learning.

The person with artistic temperament is forgetful. If she is lucky she has a partner, to find her lost keys and eyeglasses, and to keep her grounded in time and space. The self actualized person with this - (ahem) disorder - is the torch bearer, the trail blazer, the pioneer who leads future generations in the right direction.

Who are they? They are Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin, too (often the artistic people marry each other), Gandhi, St. Therese of Lisieux, George Washington, John Adams and many, many others who followed in their footsteps.

The person with the artistic temperament often acts as if he must cram a lot of activity in to a very short life span. He acts as if he must do many, many things before he dies.


You might say these are old souls, near the end of their Karmic cycles (Buddhist philosophy here). Buddhists say that these souls have many, many things to accomplish before they can merge into the oneness of what we would call God. This, they tell us, is a person very close to becoming enlightened. Their lives are very difficult but it is the difficulties of such lives that help purify the soul.1

Theodore had an artistic temperament, but as a child he had trained himself to pay close attention to bird and animal life, thus helping him to deal with his condition. He had trained his memory by memorizing the tiny differences between species of birds and learning their Latin names. One biographer said that as President, Theodore “could sit all afternoon, silent and alone, to observe an unfamiliar bird.” The ability to do this must have made his type of temperament much easier to deal with. It may be possible to actually change the chemistry and maybe even the structure of the brain by practicing some such exercise as this.

Harvard
Theodore was hyperactive. With his thick glasses, New York accent and nervous energy he did not fit in. He was described by fellow students at Harvard as nervous, fidgety, odd, even mentally unbalanced. The rich boys parted their hair in the middle and carried gold watch fobs.2 “It was not considered good form to move at more than a walk,” said one, “but Roosevelt was always running.”3

Theodore was incapable of sitting quietly in class. Fellow students said he livened up dull courses with his questions. 4 “See here, Roosevelt, let me talk, I’m running this course,” said one professor.5

Roosevelt was always talking, always active, always in a hurry. The students liked him and found him funny. He joined many clubs, took boxing lessons, dancing class and wrestling. He got excellent grades.

He could read in a noisy room, Carleton Putnam wrote, “oblivious to all that was going on around him....[reading] with such absorption that three friends rough-housing and bumping into his chair did not distract him, and only the smell of the soles of his boots burning before the fire finally got his attention.”6

Roosevelt had the ability to work in spurts. He could concentrate intensely at odd moments.7 “Whenever I have any spare time I can immediately take up a book,” he wrote. He turned taking advantage of the odd moment into an art form.8

Theodore still collected specimens and labeled them. His rooms often contained snakes, lizards, salamanders and even a tortoise.9

He had a photographic memory and said once, “I remembered a book that I had read some time ago, and as I talked the pages of the book came before my eyes, and it seemed as though I were able to read the things therein contained.”10 Because his time was so well organized, he gave the impression of coasting or not working very hard. He was actually a very hard working student and got good grades, although school work never inspired him.11

His schedule went like this:

7:15 - 7:45 get up
7:45 - 8:00 chapel
8:00 - 8:30 eat breakfast
8:30 - 9:00 study
9:00 - 12:00 attend classes
12:00 - 1:00 study
1:00 - 1:30 eat lunch
1:30 - 2:30 study
2:30 - 3:30 attend class
3:30 - 6:00 exercise
6:00 - 7:00 eat dinner
7:00 - 8:30 study
8:30 - 10:30 visit with friends
11:00 go to bed12

He fell in with the “Boston Brahmins” and picked up expressions like “Jove” and “dear old boy.” In his Junior year he belonged to nearly every club.13 His peers were impressed by his parent’s house with its butlers and footmen. Few could afford to keep their own horse in Cambridge like he did. His friend Harry Chapin said one day, “Jove! Your family do act squarely by you!”14

After his father’s death, his income from his inheritance was $8,000 a year. On $5,000 a year the president of Harvard owned a home, a summer house, a boat and put two sons through Harvard. Theodore spent more money on clothes than some students had to cover all expenses. Even so, he spent less than his income.15

His Father’s Death
During Theodore’s youth, his father was his confidant and closest friend. He got good grades only to please his father. He wrote from Cambridge, “I am sure that there is no one who has a Father who is also his best and most intimate friend, as you are mine. I have kept the first letter you wrote me and shall do my best to deserve your trust.”16

When his father was only forty-six, he died of stomach cancer and Theodore lost his reason for living. “He was everything to me; father, companion, friend,” he wrote. “He shared all my joys, and in sharing doubled them, and soothed all the few sorrows I ever had.” “Every event of my life is bound up with him.”17 “I have lost the only human being to whom I told everything....I had been so accustomed to go to him for advice that I hardly know how to decide for myself.”18

Theodore felt depressed, lonely and worthless. He doubted his ability to measure up to his father’s example.19 He felt inferior to his father morally, mentally and physically. “I often feel badly that such a wonderful man as my father should have had a son of so little worth as I am.”20

He poured out his anguish for months in his diary. “if I had very much time to think I believe I should go crazy...” At Church he saw his father sitting beside him “as distinctly as if he were alive.” “Sometimes when I fully realize my loss I feel as if I should go wild.”21

The grief was “almost unbearable.” “It seems to me like a hideous dream.” “He was as pure and unselfish as he was wise and good.” “Oh Father, Father, how bitterly I miss you, mourn you and long for you.”22

Six months after his father’s death Theodore, who may have had a mild mood disorder, swung into a high, but irritable, state. He wrote, “I could not feel happier” and “I wonder if anyone could have a happier time than I.”

He went into a frenzy of activity at this time. He ran, boxed, hiked, hunted and swam.

He had a nasty quarrel with his childhood friend, Edith Carow, and for the next few days was consumed with rage. He rode his horse so hard day after day that he almost ruined it. Annoyed by the barking of a neighbor’s dog, he shot and killed it. While sailing he shot anything that moved on the water “from bottles or buoys to sharks and porpoises,” as biographer Edmund Morris put it.23

Then he went to Maine and met thirty-three year-old Will Sewall, his hunting guide. Will described Theodore as “always good-natured and full of fun....He did not feel well sometimes, but he never would admit it. I could see not a single thing that wasn’t fine in Theodore, no qualities that I didn’t like.”
They studied the Bible and read poetry together. He worked with Maine lumbermen and walked many miles each day. He came back to New York calm and cheerful.24

His spells of brooding over the death of his father occurred less often. He decided then to consecrate his life to the memory of his father. He said, “With God’s help I shall try to lead such a life as Father would have wished me to.” 25 He redoubled his efforts to study. From this time on he would try to be as good a man as he could, morally, mentally and physically to give honor to his father’s name.

“How I wish I could ever do something to keep up his name!” he wrote.

Years later he told his sister that he never made an important decision as President without asking himself what his father would have done in the same situation. 26

Before he left Harvard he wrote one or two chapters of the Naval War of 1812. He enjoyed writing it. He never enjoyed learning for the sake of getting a good grade. He said he had a serious interest in the subject and enjoyed researching it.27

He had become interested in naval warfare after reading two books. One was William James’ Naval History of Great Britain and the other was J. Fenimore Cooper’s History of the Navy of the United States. He found them biased and decided to write a history of his own. 28

He knew next to nothing about ships and navigation and wanted to get the facts right. By exhaustive study, he did.29

Alice
In October 1878 he met Alice Lee. The seventeen year old beauty was described as tall and slender with “dove gray” eyes. Nicknamed “Sunshine,” she was bright and cheerful. He proposed to her twice. Both times she turned him down but left him with the feeling that, if he was persistent, she would consent to marry him.

In the fall of his senior year Theodore proposed to Alice again. This time she turned him down with a finality that nearly drove him crazy. “I went nearly crazy at the mere thought of losing her,” he wrote later. He threw himself into his studies and the writing of his book, but nothing helped. Night after sleepless night he wandered in the woods obsessing over Alice and the men she was seeing. One night some worried classmates telegraphed his family and they sent a cousin, who was a medical student, to calm him.30

Then, he spent some time with Alice at Thanksgiving. On January 25th she finally consented to be his wife. It was “too good to be true.” He was “almost too happy.”31

“How I love her! She seems like a star of heaven, she is so far above other girls, my pearl, my pure flower,” he wrote.32

On June 30, 1880, at age twenty-one, he graduated from Harvard magna cum laude. He was twenty-first in a class of 177. “My career at college has been happier and more successful than that of any man I have ever known,” he declared.33

Theodore and Alice married on Theodore’s twenty-second birthday, October 27, 1880. They spent two weeks honeymooning at Oyster Bay.34 “How I wish it could last forever,” he said.35

When they got back from Oyster Bay, Theodore did research at the Astor Library and went to Columbia Law School.

He soon became disillusioned with the law, especially the discrepancy between moral and civil law.36

On May 12, 1881, Theodore and Alice left for a long honeymoon in Europe. He worked on his book “doggedly” during the last month in Europe. He wrote his sister that pulling all the information together was an overwhelming job. “I wonder if I won’t find everything in life too big for my abilities,” he wrote.37 It was the most lasting of his 38 books and is still the definitive work in its field. This British asked him to write a volume on the War of 1812 for a multivolume history of the Royal Navy.39