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Memories Of Edmund Morris In Madison, Dead At 78

May 28, 2019

I recall the evening when Edmund Morris was a speaker at the Madison Book Festival.  I know readers will be shocked to learn of my place in that crowd.

It seems only yesterday at Canterbury, a cozy and perfect little coffee and sweet shop with books towering on dark wooden shelves, that a warm Madison memory was made.  It was just off of State Street where Edmund Morris give a brilliant talk on his book “Theodore Rex”.

As an odd side-note, and piece of trivia for politicos in Wisconsin, I add that former State Representative Scott Jensen introduced him that night to an overflow audience.  Jensen told of his high regard for Teddy Roosevelt.

It needs noting, too, as we walk down this memory lane that a rabble-rouser in the crowd asked Morris to contrast TR with President George Bush 43..  After the laughter passed…………  (By the way, I was the one posing that question.)

One of the differences, noted by Morris, was the literate and linguistic skills of Teddy Roosevelt.   I will let that comparison just hang in the air.

This morning in the newspaper it is reported of Morris’ death at the age of 78.

I would like to have only an uplifting tone to this post, but as often stated on CP, I need to call the balls and strikes.  As such, it needs noting that Morris made a colossal mistake then he wrote his biography of Ronald Reagan.  While the topic was an excellent choice, the manner in which he wrote it was just plain unacceptable.  Morris inserted himself as a fictional narrator, a device that baffled and angered some historians.

And plenty of readers of history, too.

Morris had worked on the book for 14 years and wrote it from the viewpoint of a fictional Edmund Morris, who accompanies the future president from his Illinois boyhood, through his Eureka College days in Illinois, and finally to the White House and beyond.

Can one imagine David McCullough placing himself into the working shed of the Wright Brothers?  Or Joseph Ellis sitting alongside Thomas Jefferson as the quill pen is dipped in ink?

No, never.

Morris claimed he needed to take his approach as trying to explain Reagan was otherwise not possible.  Reagan was indeed filled with lots of shade that is hard to discern.  But that type of personality needs to be cracked with a multi-dimensional approach, not with fiction and lose facts.

There is much to applaud Morris for regarding his works on TR.  He seemed to thrill over the life and times of a most colorful president and national leader.   Those are the books we will best remember when thinking of this historian.

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