I've been spending a lot of time with the Roosevelts lately. In particular, brothers Theodore and Elliott. I'm fascinated how Theodore overcame a difficult childhood of asthma and other ailments to become the robust president, while Elliott ends up essentially drinking himself to death at the age of 34.
On one level, I think this image from their sister, Corrine, tells us a lot about their respecitve characters. "Elliott was the sailor...while 'Theodore craved the actual effort of the arms and back.' He 'loved to row in the hottest sun, over the roughest water, in the smallest boat'..." One brother is carried along by the wind, while the other insists on conquering the water with his brute strength.
But obviously this is a far more complicated story and, I believe, has a great deal to do with their relationship with their father, Theodore, Sr. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Theodore, Sr. took the time to implore TR to make himself into a man, to overcome the physical ailments that were holding him back. But we know that Elliott also suffered from health issues, most prominently seizures that may have been a sign of epilepsy. Yet, in my research so far, there is no similar letter from father to son encouraging Elliott to make himself into a man.
Instead, we have letters from son to father. Heartbreaking letters where Elliott expresses his devotion to his father and a need for guidance. In 1873, he writes "What will I become when I am a man?...I will try my best and try to be as good as you it is in me, but it is hard." These are the words of a thirteen year old reaching out, and yet there is no encouraging reply.
Two years later, in 1875, he writes a similarly pained letter: "Oh, Father will you ever think me a 'noble boy'? You are right about Teedie [TR], he is one and no mistake, a boy I would a good deal to be like in many respects....Father....help me to be a good boy and worthy of you..." Elliott is only fifteen, but he is racked by feelings of inferiority and feels that his father favors Theodore.
Surely, there is a great deal more thaT went in to Elliott's self-destructive downfall, but I can't help seeing the seeds of his alcohol-fueled death in these forlorn letters to a father he loves, but cannot seem to reach.