Theodore Roosevelt competed in various kinds of arenas: presidential campaigns, boxing, hunting, and even jiujitsu. Most people may not know that he also competed as a writer. In my role as digital library coordinator, I’ve been cataloging material that shows Roosevelt’s relationship to nature. This week I focused on the correspondence between J. Alden Loring, a naturalist with the Smithsonian Institution, and TR.
Loring and TR’s first big collaboration was on the 1909 Africa expedition. Roosevelt asked him to serve as a field naturalist on the trip. On New Year’s Day 1909, Loring accepted the offer and in the same letter asked if he could publish articles on their African experiences, arguing that “a two column occasionally would in no way conflict with your literary work.” No matter how much Loring downplayed his own publication goals, it was a no go with Roosevelt. The next day he responded, “I am very sorry to say that I cannot grant you the permission that you ask. I have engaged to write for the Scribners, and I have agreed that not one word shall be written by any member of the party in any shape or way until after my articles and books have appeared.” Not much room for negotiation. Loring’s financial need definitely didn’t sway Roosevelt either.
I’m fascinated by books and writing. TR’s correspondence offers a glimpse into publication history and who gets to tell a story in print.