FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA

The excellent THEODORE ROOSEVELT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, the Republican candidate for Vice-President of the Republican Party in 1900 tells, 

…the monotony usually attendant upon such a campaign of political speaking was diversified in vivid fashion by occasional hostile audiences. One or two of the meetings ended in riots. One meeting was finally broken up by a mob; everybody fought so speaking had to stop. Soon after this we reached a town where we were told there might be trouble. Here the local committee included an old and valued friend, a “two-gun” man of repute, who was not in the least quarrelsome, but who always kept his word. We marched around to the local opera-house, which was packed with a mass of men, many of them rather rough-looking. My friend the two-gun man sat immediately behind me, fixing his gaze with instant intentness on any section of the house from which there came so much as a whisper. The audience listened to me with rapt attention. At the end, with a pride in my rhetorical powers which proceeded from a misunderstanding of the situation, I remarked to the chairman: “I held that audience well; there wasn’t an interruption.”

To which the chairman replied: “Interruption? Well, I guess not. Seth had sent around word that if any son of a gun peeped he’d kill him!”

Chapter 4, p. 129-130; New York, DA CAPO, 1985. 

WRITING: USE OF I

DEATH VALLEY-BORAX DESERTS

by JOHN R. SPEARS

Too many books, not enough time to read. Right?

These Sketches of the Western border of the Great Basin are encumbered by poor writing. Primarily the author wrote in the first person narrative, making the writing verbose, folksy and impossible to read. I stopped after 46 pages. 

EXAMPLE:  Chapter 2, page 43. 

“Looking toward the east I observed that the white haze thickened and thinned over the face of the sun, as if clouds or varying density were passing there, though no distinct clouds could be seen.”

SUBSTITUTE:

The white haze thicken and thinned shielding the sun.

ANALYSIS:

  1. When an author uses I, he does not need to say, “I think,” “I observe,” “I wonder,” “I smelled.” The reader infers who is sensing or thinking and is recounting.
  2. There is a regrettable sentence structure requiring an unnecessary use of a passive verb at the end of the sentence.
  3. The author tries to describe, completely the haze – thickening and thinning by comparing it to clouds. There are no clouds in Death Valley (as the author’s sentence reveals) for much of the year, especially when sandstorms arise (so tells this author).
  4. The author’s description is unsuccessful. He not only departs from the singular, haze, to the plural, clouds, but the author does not say what is happening: Does the haze block the sun, or not? Does it change the color of the sky, blue, gray, brown or which hue(s)? Supposedly, I is standing on the desert floor, not making meteorological observations, but describing what is happening around him. This text does not seem real.  

EXAMPLE: Chapter 2, page 46, begins,

“As was said in the last chapter, people have read, from time to time, that men and beasts, and even birds trying to cross Death Valley fall down and die. It is true.”

The next paragraph begins, “I did not see this, of course.”

There is no SUBSTITUTE, only ANALYSIS:

  1. The author, using I, is detached from the subject.
  2. The place is known as Death Valley.
  3. As far as my reading went, of course, I, the author of this book did not stroll across the Valley and describe the effects on the human body, the mind and illusions that may appear to the sensations, which he can write about. This book is wholly deficient. In Roosevelt, Theodore, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, the author describes being exposed and riding through the blizzard to shelter, all the while using I infrequently. Any reader of Roosevelt’s book is amazed by the details of being human in that environment and on that land. The reader is alarmed. Will the author survive? And as a piece of literature, the reader wonders how the author remembered everything to write into a passage.

MORAL

When using the first person narrative upon telling a tale, a sketch or an experience, use I sparingly or not at all. Use of I carelessly leads to poor writing, too many words, awkward attempts to be familiar with readers, confusing the story, and presenting misimpression’s (details, misconceptions, misinterpretations and using the wrong words).

RIVER OF DOUBT

Candice Millard

This involved tale of exploration succeeds remotely. When reading J.H. Parry’s two books about Renaissance exploration of the oceans, I was amused when Parry would correct the location (navigation) of the place because the ocean currents did not conform to the records stated in the original sources. River of Doubt does not make such corrections. I do not have a sense that the author has traveled along the river.

This tale presents Theodore Roosevelt as someone who is a reckless adventurer and somewhat of a flake. No one knew the type and quantity of goods for the exhibition until three weeks along the trail. Someone looks. They are carrying Rhine Water, along with lots of other useless stuff. Much of it is abandoned. Neither Roosevelt nor Rondon (Brazilian) inspected or determined the anything was wrong until underway too far into the exhibition – lives have been damaged or lost, and will be. Note also, on this long trip into the jungle, Roosevelt has a bum leg; his son, Kermit, malaria.

It seems completely improbable Roosevelt would have gone off without reading anything about exploring rivers. During his life time books were written by such explorers: Richard Burton (Tanzania, Nile, 1860); Richard Speek (Nile, Lake Victoria, @1860); Henry Stanley (Nile, Congo River 1880); John Wesley Powell (Grand Canyon 1870) Certainly, Roosevelt knew that quinine inhibited the transmission of malaria. River of Doubt finally mentions quinine (p. 250) but the standard medical practice for prescribing quinine in 1914 is not given in the text. Roosevelt, himself, only had to ask his good friend, Leonard Wood, for advice. [About that page in the tale Roosevelt is hot with a malarial condition.] I might conclude that Roosevelt recklessly neglected quinine, or the author dropped quinine into the story as an afterthought.

The author has told a tale of the Central Amazon. Because journals, diaries, specie collections and exhibition records are incomplete or missing, she tells about the geography, flora and fauna very well. These environmental chapters, extending almost as far as the Amazon River is broad, carry the book and make it readable. She cannot tell of the full horrors of the place, except if half of any exhibition party returns, it has been a successful venture. The environmental chapters allow for the calendar to proceed. It replaces what might be available if all the sources were available: March 3, 1914, the party stopped her; disagreement between X and Y. This is the outcome. My only question is about vicinage: Are the flora and fauna described unique to the River of Doubt or are they found everywhere else in the Amazon basin?

An issue issue of biography arises from the text. It is not fully explored. Roosevelt was 53 years old. He suffered personal/psychological set backs when he lost the elections of 1912. Until that year Roosevelt had no defining potentially defeating events since his Rough Rider Days, when he was 40 years old. He takes up this exploration in an effort “to forge his own happiness.” (276) Yet at 54 he is injured, old, fat and out of shape. He knows a year of hardship and disease await him. He should not go within 500 miles of the River of Doubt. No one tells him not to go. Yet, was Roosevelt incapable of “forging his own happiness” in anyway, other than the means he devised in youth?

The answer to this question is obvious. Roosevelt physically and mentally failed. He also created conditions which led to his early death.