AUGUST 23, 1951
HYDE PARK, Wednesday—I have been reading a small volume, privately printed and distributed, of fragments of intimate letters written by the late Carl Van Doren to his friends.
These are enchanting scraps. One wishes that someday there might be many more, for the literary gift that contributed much to American literature is evident in his personal letters. I wish I had known him well. He must not only have been fun but a stimulating friend to have around.
I particularly like the letter Mr. Van Doren wrote to his mother at the age of 24, when he was a graduate student."Some days I grow a despicable coward," he wrote, "and am
nearly tempted to turn my back upon all the bright ideals
to which I have been true now for nearly a third of my
life, and drop my energies to a slighter task where
there is a chance of wealth and ease after a time. I
know I could be rich-but I don't care to be—and I
suppose I could attain some kind of worldly preferment. "What is the good of all this feverish distracted
effort and this silent sacrifice? I ask myself, and
then I grow ashamed and vow that I will use the wretched
talents that have been given me, and though I may curse
with all of my hate the cruelty that gave me a giant's
ambition and a child's powers, I will not be downed,
but hold my head erect, though it reach no further
than the waist of most of my companions.
How many young people have felt as he did at some time during their preparation for life work? So today we are down again in the Korean talks. Nobody knows whether they are going well or badly. In Iran our hopes are up a little. What patience negotiators have and how little we, the public, really know of what moves the policies of our own government or the policies of those with whom we now negotiate.
So much always has to lie in the hands of a few men. All we, the public, can do is be sure that those we have chosen to carry these heavy responsibilities are men whose principles we believe in and whose integrity we trust.
Even with our two-party system, it should be possible to have men of that type in both parties running for office, so that though we might question the wisdom of their actions, we would never question motives that lay back of them.
I never mind arguments that hinge on whether something should be done and how it should be done. But I object very much to those who try to destroy the characters of the people on whom they have to rely, at least during their terms of office, to formulate and carry out policies of our government.
The policies may be wrong, in which case we should all be prepared to change them. But a man elected by majority vote and his appointees should have the confidence of the people to the extent that he and those working with him are trusted to be doing what they think will help the nation. If they are proved wrong, they should be turned out and turned out because the people disagree with their ideas, not because the public mistrusts their motives.
I have a letter from a man who feels that this or that official has "sold us out" on this or that occasion: In other words, he believes that certain representatives of the United States lacked integrity. Instead I think one should feel that the ideas may have been wrong and therefore should be changed, but that the men, even though wrong, were not without principle and integrity.
Too often decisions must be made when only the future will prove whether they were right or wrong.
(WORLD COPYRIGHT, 1951, BY UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE, INC. REPRODUCTION IN WHOLE OR IN PART PROHIBITED.)
About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, August 23, 1951
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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