A King’s Funeral

When King Edward VII died in 1910 President Taft appointed his illustrious predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, as special representative of the United States at the funeral. It was one of the last great gatherings of Europe’s royalty before World War I toppled many of the monarchs from their thrones.
This remarkable account of the occasion was written by Roosevelt to a friend, David Gray, with strict instructions that it must not be made public until the chief personages had passed from the scene. It has been selected now by the editor of the Roosevelt letters, Elting E. Morison, along with two other long T. R. letters, for publication in a volume entitled Cowboys and Kings. The following text omits certain passages not relating to the royal funeral.

--The Editors

October 5, 1911 Oyster Bay

For nobody’s eyes but yours

Dear Gray:

Here goes for a painfully inadequate effort to meet the request which you so solemnly made “in the name of the Gods of Mirth and Truth.”

Having been wired that I was appointed Special Ambassador, I felt of course that I must serve. Knowing the sweet reasonableness, not merely of Congress but of the general public, in such matters, I never accepted a dollar either directly or indirectly for my services, and declined to take advantage of the privilege proffered me of taking in my belongings free of duty. This did not make any difference, however, so far as Congress and the public were concerned; for at intervals since then Congress has at times proposed to investigate me to find out how much of the public money I spent, and to this day I am occasionally reproached with having taken my belongings in free—you doubtless remember Cloudberry’s remark, of which I am so fond, about “the infinite capacity of the human brain to withstand the introduction of knowledge.”

Most of the time we were in England we were guests of Arthur Lee, sometimes at his London House, and sometimes at his country place, Chequers Court. Arthur Lee had the most delightful parties imaginable at Chequers to meet us. just the right people—Balfour, Alfred Lyttelton. Oliver—who wrote The Life of Hamilton —Kitchener, Roberts and Lady Roberts, and a number of others.

The only man I did not like was Kitchener. He suddenly attacked me on the subject of the Panama Canal, saying that it was a great mistake not to have made it a sea-level canal. I at first answered in a non-committal way, but he kept on the subject and in a very loud voice repeated that it was a great mistake, that it was very foolish on our part, not to have had it a sea-level canal, and lie could not understand why we did not build one. I said that our engineers on the ground reported that there were altogether too many difficulties and too few advantages in a sea-level canal, to which he responded: “I never regard difficulties, or pay heed to protests like that; all I would do in such a case would be to say ‘I order that a sea-level canal be dug, and I wish to hear nothing more about it.’” I answered, “If you say so, I have no doubt you would have given such an order; but I wonder if you remember the conversation between Glendower and Hotspur, when Glendower says, ‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep,’ and Hotspur answers. ‘So can I, and so can any man; but will they come?’” I think he did not entirely understand the quotation, and he reiterated that he would have ordered it to be a sea-level canal, and would have listened to no protests from the engineers. By this time I thought I might as well end the conversation, and I told him that Colonel Goethals who was actually digging the canal was in my judgment the very best man in the world for the job, and the man whose opinion was best worth taking, that Goethals had never seen the Sudan, just as he, Kitchener, had never seen Panama, and that I would trust the opinion of Goethals rather than Kitchener as to Goethals’ job in Panama just as I would trust the opinion of Kitchener rather than Goethals if Goethals should criticize Kitchener’s job in the Sudan.

Balfour, Lyttelton and Oliver were three of the most charming men whom I ever met. At first Balfour talked merely on general subjects; but I happened to make the remark that I had “never demanded of knowledge anything except that it should be valueless,” which for some reason or another proved the key to unlock his intimate thoughts, and from that time he spoke of everything of the closest possible nature.

I dislike Winston Churchill and would not meet him, but I was anxious to meet both Lloyd George and John Burns, and I took a real fancy to both. John Burns struck me as having a saner judgment, Lloyd George being very emotional; but of course Lloyd George was the most powerful statesman I met in England, in fact the man of power. As regards internal politics, I was much more in sympathy with them than with Balfour and Lyttelton; but, taking internal and external politics together. Edward Grey was the man to whom I was really drawn.