TR and GKC
They were instantly recognizable by their initials alone—men of outsized personalities. In the Edwardian era, it would be hard to imagine two more intelligent and gifted conversationalists than Theodore Roosevelt and G.K. Chesterton. Indeed, America’s 26th president greatly admired this British man of letters—particularly Chesterton’s literary study of Charles Dickens (first published in 1906). And for Christmas 1908, TR had given one of Chesterton’s most memorable collections of essays, Heretics, as a gift to his friend Captain Archibald Butt.Also:
TR and GKC first met during a dinner in London two years later—at Roosevelt’s request. One evening in the spring of 1910 they dined together in London. It is easy to imagine their maître d’ would have seen instantly there was little need to renew the candlelight at their table. Resplendent conversation supplied everything needed by way of spark and fire.
Given TR’s famously powerful presence—he was called “T. Vesuvius Roosevelt”—and people left his company needing to “wring the personality out of their clothes”—his tribute to Chesterton after their meeting was all the more telling. Speaking with a friend after their dinner had concluded, the former president said Chesterton was a man of undeniable genius—a peerless font of brilliant conversation.
Fast-forward to November 1919, and we learn more details of TR’s dinner with GKC. They were supplied by journalist Strickland Gillian in an article for The Lyceum Magazine. Confirming Slosson’s account, Gillian began: “When Colonel Roosevelt returned from his African expedition, and was given a dinner by the London journalists and authors, he was asked whom he would like to have by his side to talk with during the evening. He promptly replied, ‘Gilbert Chesterton.’” Gillian then added, “afterwards, in speaking with a friend, [Colonel Roosevelt] exclaimed, ‘What a supreme genius Chesterton is! I never met a man who could talk so brilliantly and interestingly.’”Another interesting tidbit:
Nor was TR the only Roosevelt who relished Chesterton’s writing. The long poem, “Lepanto,” was a favourite of TR’s eldest daughter Alice, who could (and often did) “recite all nine stanzas at a rapid clip.” In later years, reciting this poem with her granddaughter Joanna was a source of particular delight for Alice Roosevelt Longworth—something that drew them together.
Kermit Roosevelt, the son who had accompanied TR on his celebrated African safari, also had a great appreciation for Chesterton. Years later, this led to something of a social and literary coup, for Kermit and his wife succeeded in enticing the famously reticent poet Edwin Arlington Robinson to accept a dinner invitation—something he rarely did. The occasion: a gathering in honour of GKC. The bright company of those in attendance also included Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Robinson, who was also known by his initials, EAR, was said to have become quite talkative that evening. Indeed, he told a friend afterwards that he had “talked incessantly.”