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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

A storied visit

Edmund Morris speaks at Houghton Library, home of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection


A page from Morris' book shows edits made by Theodore Roosevelt. Courtesy of Thornwillow Press.

By Beth Giudicessi, HCL Communications

March 31, 2014 – During the historic "Blizzard of 1978," Edmund Morris forced open the door of his snowed-in Cambridge hotel and made his way across the quieted Harvard Yard to Widener Library to continue his research on the figure that would make him famous.

Thirty-five years, a few more snowstorms and a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt later, Morris made his way back to the University on the occasion of his new book celebrating America's 26th president.

"These polished precincts do evoke memories," Morris said.

The author delivered a talk on the book, a fine print limited edition issued by Thornwillow Press, in the Edison and Newman Room at Houghton Library on March 27. Houghton and Widener libraries are home to the University's Theodore Roosevelt Collection, a major resource of original manuscripts, speeches, books, photographs and ephemera relating to Roosevelt's personal and professional life.

"TR, as he's known around here—never Teddy—is the most multi-faceted and thus fascinating president," said Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection Heather Cole. "His incredible amount of interests, experiences and accomplishments are reflected in the rich and vast collection at Harvard."

Morris echoed the sentiment. "He was a polygon in the sense that he presents so many facets that no biographer circling around him can see all the facets at once. And indeed, many of the facets contradict one another."

The new book, titled "Nine Lives of Theodore Roosevelt," pays tribute to the remark Roosevelt made about his varied career when he said "I have enjoyed life as much as any nine men I know."

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For the edition and the talk, Morris selected anecdotes about Roosevelt the politician, the westerner, the president, the conservationist, the reader, the game hunter, the orator, the cosmopolitan and the intellectual.

"I could have selected nine other Rooseveltian lives than the ones that I did choose, since there is no shortage of choice," Morris said.

"The book itself is a tour of TR's life and the tour is given by the ultimate tour guide," said Thornwillow Press President and Publisher Luke Ives Pontifell '90.

The book, like Morris' prose, is a thing of beauty. Every aspect is handmade, including its green African goatskin binding, a nod to Morris' homeland. (Upon its inspection, Morris joked, "I grew up in that continent and there are no green goats.")

Pontifell places high priority on making objects that last in an era dominated by disposable and intangible forms of communication.

"Why do this?" he asked. "The answer again is right here. The Houghton Library gives you the opportunity actually to touch history, to touch culture, a laying on hands of the past where you come from and, without that, there's no way to figure out where you're going to go."

Like Morris, the visit evoked memories for Pontifell, who reminisced about taking classes in the "incredible, paneled rooms" of Houghton. "This was the foundation, the inspiration, for my entire life," he said. "Everything I've done since then can trace its roots to that moment. So to be here is very special."