I am featuring Edith because of my appreciation for President Theodore Roosevelt and of her remarkable legacy that has gone mostly un-noticed. He was a remarkable man, had instant recall, read lots of books on many subjects and supported the brilliance before him. Edith and Teddy both loved to converse on any subject. Both were brought up in upper middle-class New York and both had keen views of the world they occupied.
Soon after President Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, he invited novelist Edith Wharton to the White House for lunch. When Wharton arrived, President Roosevelt exclaimed: “At last I can quote ‘The Hunting of the Snark’!”
During Wharton’s visit, President Roosevelt also expressed disbelief that none of his administration knew Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. President Roosevelt recounted, “The other day, when I said to the Secretary of the Navy: ‘Mr. Secretary, What I say three times is true,’ he did not recognize the allusion, and answered with an aggrieved air: ‘Mr. President, it would never for a moment have occurred to me to impugn your veracity’!”
Wharton and Roosevelt had been friends for many years before Roosevelt became president, and they enjoyed corresponding about literary and political subjects. Additionally, Wharton was a distant relative and friend of Roosevelt’s second wife, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt. When Mrs. Roosevelt suffered a severe concussion in 1911, Wharton sent well wishes to the Roosevelts. In his response, Roosevelt reported that reading Wharton’s book Ethan Frome was one of the first things his wife did during her recovery.
Edith Wharton was an American novelist, short story writer, and designer. Wharton drew upon her insider’s knowledge of the upper-class New York “aristocracy” to realistically portray the lives and morals of the Gilded Age. In 1921, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Literature, for her novel The Age of Innocence. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996. Among her other well-known works are The House of Mirth and the novella Ethan Frome.
When Theodore Roosevelt passed away in 1919, Wharton wrote the poem “With the Tide” in honor of his memory.
SOMEWHERE I read, in an old book whose name
Is gone from me, I read that when the days
Of a man are counted, and his business done,
There comes up the shore at evening, with the tide,
To the place where he sits, a boat —
And in the boat, from the place where he sits, he sees,
Dim in the dusk, dim and yet so familiar,
The faces of his friends long dead; and knows
They come for him, brought in upon the tide,
To take him where men go at set of day.
Then rising, with his hands in theirs, he goes
Between them his last steps, that are the first
Of the new life — and with the ebb they pass,
Their shaken sail grown small upon the moon.
Often I thought of this, and pictured me
How many a man who lives with throngs about him,
Yet straining through the twilight for that boat
Shall scarce make out one figure in the stern,
And that so faint its features shall perplex him
With doubtful memories — and his heart hang back.
But others, rising as they see the sail
Increase upon the sunset, hasten down,
Hands out and eyes elated; for they see
Head over head, crowding from bow to stern,
Repeopling their long loneliness with smiles,
The faces of their friends; and such go forth
Content upon the ebb tide, with safe hearts.
To worker summoned when his day was done
Did mounting tide bring in such freight of friends
As stole to you up the white wintry shingle
That night while they that watched you thought you slept.
Softly they came, and beached the boat, and gathered
In the still cove under the icy stars,
Your last-born, and the dear loves of your heart,
And all men that have loved right more than ease,
And honor above honors; all who gave
Free-handed of their best for other men,
And thought their giving taking: they who knew
Man’s natural state is effort, up and up —
All these were there, so great a company
Perchance you marveled, wondering what great ship
Had brought that throng unnumbered to the cove
Where the boys used to beach their light canoe
After old happy picnics —
But these, your friends and children, to whose hands
Committed, in the silent night you rose
And took your last faint steps —
These led you down, O great American,
Down to the winter night and the white beach,
And there you saw that the huge hull that waited
Was not as are the boats of the other dead,
Frail craft for a brief passage; no, for this
Was first of a long line of towering transports,
Storm-worn and ocean-weary every one,
The ships you launched, the ships you manned, the ships
That now, returning from their sacred quest
With the thrice-sacred burden of their dead,
Lay waiting there to take you forth with them,
Out with the ebb tide, on some farther quest.