Churchill, Sir Winston (30 November 1874 - 24 January 1965)
Sir Winston Churchill (30 November 1874 - 24 January 1965)
This entry was expanded by Kitzan from his Churchill entry in DLB 100: Modern British Essayists, Second Series.
BOOKS: The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War (London & New York: Longmans, Green, 1898);
Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania (New York: Longmans, Green, 1900; London: Longmans, Green, 1900);
London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (London & New York: Longmans, Green, 1900);
Ian Hamilton’s March: Together with Extracts from the Diary of Lieutenant H. Frankland, a Prisoner of War at Pretoria (London & New York: Longmans, Green, 1900);
Mr. Broderick’s Army (London: Humphreys, 1903; Sacramento, Cal.: Churchilliana, 1977);
Why I Am a Free Trader (London: Stead, 1905);
Lord Randolph Churchill, 2 volumes (London & New York: Macmillan, 1906);
For Free Trade: A Collection of Speeches Delivered at Manchester or in the House of Commons during the Fiscal Controversy Preceding the Late General Election (London: Humphreys, 1906; Sacramento, Cal.: Churchilliana, 1977);
My African Journey (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1908; New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1909);
Liberalism and the Social Problem (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909; Doubleday, Doran, 1910);
The People’s Rights (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909; New York: Taplinger, 1971);
Prison and Prisoners: A Speech Delivered in the House of Commons, 20th July, 1910 (London & New York: Cassell, 1910);
The World Crisis, 6 volumes (London: Butterworth, 1923-1931; New York: Scribners, 1923-1931);
abridged and revised, 1 volume (London: Butterworth, 1931; New York: Scribners, 1931);
Parliamentary Government and the Economic Problem: The Romanes Lecture Delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, 19 June 1930 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930);
My Early Life: A Roving Commission (London: Butterworth, 1930); republished as A Roving Commission: My Early Life (New York: Scribners, 1930);
India: Speeches and an Introduction (London: Butterworth, 1931);
Thoughts and Adventures (London: Butterworth, 1932); republished as Amid These Storms: Thoughts and Adventures (New York: Scribners, 1932);
Marlborough: His Life and Times, 4 volumes (London: Harrap, 1933-1938; New York: Scribners, 1933-1938);
Great Contemporaries (London: Butterworth, 1937; New York: Putnam, 1937); revised and enlarged (London: Butterworth, 1938); revised edition (London: Macmillan, 1943); revised edition (London: Odhams, 1958);
Arms and the Covenant: Speeches, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Harrap, 1938); republished as While England Slept: A Survey of World Affairs, 1932-1938 (New York: Putnam, 1938);
Step by Step: 1936-1939 (London: Butterworth, 1939; New York: Putnam, 1939);
Into Battle: Speeches, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Cassell, 1941); republished as Blood, Sweat and Tears (New York: Putnam, 1941);
The Unrelenting Struggle: War Speeches, edited by Charles Eade (London: Cassell, 1942; Boston: Little, Brown, 1942);
The End of the Beginning: War Speeches, edited by Eade (London: Cassell, 1943; Boston: Little, Brown, 1943);
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister: A Selection from Speeches Made by Winston Churchill During the Four Years That Britain Has Been at War (New York: British Information Services, 1943);
Onwards to Victory: War Speeches, edited by Eade (London: Cassell, 1944; Boston: Little, Brown, 1944);
The Dawn of Liberation: War Speeches, edited by Eade (London: Cassell, 1945; Boston: Little, Brown, 1945);
Victory: War Speeches, edited by Eade (London: Cassell, 1946; Boston: Little, Brown, 1946);
War Speeches: 1940-1945 (London: Cassell, 1946);
Secret Session Speeches, edited by Eade (London: Cassell, 1946); republished as Winston Churchill’s Secret Session Speeches (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1946);
The Sinews of Peace: Post-War Speeches, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Cassell, 1948; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949);
Maxims and Reflections, edited by Colin Coote and Denzil Batchelor (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1948; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949);
The Second World War, 6 volumes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948-1953; London: Cassell, 1948-1954)—comprises volume 1, The Gathering Storm; volume 2, Their Finest Hour; volume 3, The Grand Alliance; volume 4, The Hinge of Fate; volume 5, Closing the Ring; and volume 6, Triumph and Tragedy; abridged by Denis Kelly as The Second World War, by Churchill and the editors of Life, 2 volumes (New York: Time, 1959); abridged by Kelly, with a new epilogue by Churchill, as Memoirs of the Second World War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959);
Painting as a Pastime (London: Odhams Benn, 1948; New York: Whittlesey House, 1950);
Europe Unite: Speeches 1947 and 1948, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Cassell, 1950; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950);
In the Balance: Speeches 1949 and 1950, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Cassell, 1951; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952);
The War Speeches of the Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill, O.M., C.H., P.C, M.P., 3 volumes, edited by Eade (London: Cassell, 1952; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953);
Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 and 1952, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Cassell, 1953; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954);
Sir Winston Churchill, a Self-Portrait, edited by Coote and P. D. Bunyan (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1954); expanded as A Churchill Reader: The Wit and Wisdom of Sir Winston Churchill, edited by Coote and and Bunyan (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954);
The Wisdom of Winston Churchill: Being a Selection of Aphorisms, Reflections, Precepts, Maxims, Epigrams, Paradoxes, and Opinions from His Parliamentary and Public Speeches, 1900-1955, edited by F. B. Czarnomski (London: Allen & Unwin, 1956); abridged as The Eloquence of Winston Churchill, edited by Czarnomski (New York: New American Library, 1957);
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, 4 volumes (London: Cassell, 1956-1958; New York: Dodd, Mead, 1956-1958)—comprises volume 1, The Birth of Britain; volume 2, The New World; volume 3, The Age of Revolution; and volume 4, The Great Democracies;
Catalogue of an Exhibition of Paintings by the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, edited by Alfred M. Frankfurter (Kansas City, Mo., 1958);
Paintings by the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston S. Churchill, Exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1959 (London: The Academy, 1959);
The American Civil War (London: Cassell, 1961; New York: Dodd, Mead, 1961);
The Unwritten Alliance: Speeches 1953 to 1959, edited by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Cassell, 1961);
Frontiers and Wars [selections from Churchill’s early nonfiction] (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962);
The Island Race (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964);
Churchill: His Paintings: A Catalog, compiled by David Coombs (London: Hamilton, 1967; Cleveland: World, 1967);
Young Winston’s Wars: The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill, War Correspondent, 1897-1900, edited by Frederick Woods (London: Cooper, 1972; New York: Viking, 1973); revised as Winston S. Churchill, War Correspondent, 1895-1900 (London & Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1992).
Editions and Collections: A Churchill Anthology: Selections from, the Writings and Speeches of Sir Winston Churchill, edited by F. W. Heath (London: Odhams, 1965);
Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, abridged by Henry Steele Commager (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1965);
Marlborough: His Life and Times, abridged by Commager (New York: Scribners, 1968);
The Collected Works of Sir Winston Churchill: Centenary Limited Edition, 34 volumes (London: Library of Imperial History, 1973-1976);
Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963, 8 volumes, edited by Robert Rhodes James (New York: Chelsea House, 1974);
The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, 4 volumes, edited by Michael Wolff (London: Library of Imperial History, 1976);
The Great Republic: A History of America [from A History of the English-Speaking Peoples], edited by Winston S. Churchill (New York: Random House, 1999).
Preeminent British statesman Sir Winston Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. In his presentation speech, Sigfrid Siwertz, a member of the Swedish Academy, noted that “Churchill’s political and literary achievements are of such magnitude that one is tempted to resort to portray him as a Caesar who also has the gift of Cicero’s pen. Never before has one of history’s leading figures been so close to us by virtue of such an outstanding combination.” Churchill was not at the presentation, and at the Nobel Banquet his wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, read his speech; but he probably was pleased at the reference to Cicero, a master writer and orator, as well as the reference to Julius Caesar. Like Caesar’s, his first career was in the army, and he always showed a special interest in the military as well as in developing his political skills. Politics was Churchill’s enduring passion, and it was as a politician and statesman that his primary reputation stands; however, Churchill’s political career must also be seen in conjunction with his outstanding literary achievements. From an early age his writings underpinned his political career, but his histories and other writings were also significant contributions to literature.
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, born at Blenheim Palace on 30 November 1874, was the first of two children of Lord Randolph Churchill, the younger son of the seventh duke of Marlborough, and the former Jennie Jerome, the daughter of a wealthy American businessman. All of these factors played significant roles in his life. He had a romanticized view of his Marlborough background and became an avid defender of the reputation of the first duke, whom he perceived as having been unjustly attacked as a traitor by historians; he was also a strong defender of the reputation of his father, Lord Randolph, who at the time of Winston’s birth was just beginning what could have been a brilliant political career but ended in disaster. Late in his life Churchill strongly emphasized his American heritage.
Churchill began his precarious and sometimes unhappy experience in the academic side of his education at private schools, and then at Harrow, where, as he notes in My Early Life: A Roving Commission (1930), examiners “almost invariably” set questions “to which I was unable to suggest a satisfactory answer.” Since young Churchill did not excel at curricula with strong emphases on the classical languages, and because he had from an early age enjoyed marshalling his battalions of toy soldiers, Lord Randolph decided that his son was destined for a military career. After two failed attempts at the entrance exams to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Churchill entered Sandhurst in 1893, where he found a curriculum much more suited to his tastes; he was able to cultivate his interest in history, the subject in which he had shown the most ability at Harrow. To his great satisfaction he passed eighth out of a class of 150 students. He received his commission as second lieutenant in the Fourth Hussars in February 1895, shortly after the death of his father. The regiment was posted to India in the following year, where Churchill began his writing career—a financial necessity brought on by being an officer in a fashionable cavalry regiment in which a lieutenant’s salary met less than half of his needs. His widowed mother also chronically exceeded her own limited income and found it difficult to meet the financial demands of two sons.
Roy Jenkins, in Churchill: A Biography (2001), notes that Churchill responded to his shortfall in income by evolving “two firm rules which he followed faithfully for the rest of his life. The first was that expenditure should be determined by needs (generously interpreted) rather than by resources.… Second, he decided that when the gap between income and expenditure became uncomfortably wide the spirited solution must always be to increase income rather than to reduce expenditure.” His mother was pressed to use her social connections to get him posted to scenes of military activity, where he not only would see military service but also would be able to act as a paid newspaper correspondent. In 1895, even before going to India, he had fulfilled both desires by receiving permission to be an observer among the Spanish forces attempting to subdue an insurrection in Cuba, where, to his immense satisfaction, he had for the first time in his life come under fire; his letters from Cuba were published by the Daily Graphic.
Once in India, Churchill was able to obtain permission to accompany Sir Bindon Blood’s punitive expedition to the Swat Valley on the northwest frontier, again as a correspondent, for two newspapers, The Pioneer and the Daily Telegraph. He quickly found himself actively immersed in a dangerous frontier campaign, where he plunged eagerly into active combat and learned about both the thrill of battle and the human dimensions of war. Churchill’s 15 October 1897 letter to his newspapers described a skirmish in which he was involved:
Now, suddenly, grim tragedy burst upon the scene. As the soldiers rose from the shelter of the rocks behind which they had been firing, an officer turned quickly round, his face covered with blood. He put his hands to his head and fell on the ground. Two of the men ran to help him away. One fell shot through the leg. A sepoy who was still firing sprang into the air and, falling, began to bleed terribly. Another fell close to him. Everyone began to pull these men along, dragging them roughly over the rocky ground in spite of their groans. Another officer was immediately shot. Several Sikhs ran forward to his help. Thirty yards away was the crest of the spur. From this a score of tribesmen were now firing with deadly effect. Over it ran a crowd of swordsmen, throwing pieces of rock and yelling. It became impossible to remain an impassive spectator. The two officers who were left [one of them was Churchill] used their revolvers. The men fired wildly. One officer and two wounded sepoys were dropped on the ground. The officer lay on his back. A tall man in dirty-white linen pounced on him with a sword. It was a horrible sight.
Churchill was already developing the style, which he used so effectively in his later books, of using short, breathless sentences to suggest the feeling of combat.
He used this experience to publish his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898), a reworking of his newspaper columns. The introductory chapters of this book give the background to the conflict and describe the progress of the campaign before he arrived. It was Churchill’s first excursion into the research and writing of history.
An aspect of Churchill’s relatively short stay in India (about nineteen months) was his determination to in some way make up for his lack of a university education. He read steadily through the books sent to him by his mother. First came the volumes of Edward Gibbon and Thomas Babington Macaulay, which had an impact on his speeches and his writing, followed by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), and Plato’s Republic (in translation). He also read through twenty-seven volumes of the Annual Register, starting with the year of his birth (1874), and he pasted in his own summaries and commentaries on the politics of this period. Already he was preparing for a career beyond the military.
The Story of the Malakand Field Force brought Churchill considerable notice in England and some critical and financial success. The vigorous and colorful descriptions of military actions and the emphasis on the courage of British troops, a quality that he himself shared, became the hallmark of his military books. Also evident was his willingness to comment critically on government policies, a trait that garnered him his share of enemies in the future and almost immediately caused him difficulty in the achievement of the next adventure he had planned.
Early in 1898 it was evident that the British government was prepared to launch the final push against the government of the Khalifa in the Sudan, where, in 1885, the British general Charles Gordon had been killed at Khartoum. The expedition against Omdurman, now the capital of the Sudan, was led by Sir Herbert Kitchener, the commander of the Egyptian army, and included a sizable contingent of British troops. Churchill was determined to be part of that expedition. Kitchener, aware of the inconvenience of having as part of his forces an officer/newspaper correspondent who could be critical of the actions of his superiors, strongly resisted, and it took considerable lobbying by Jennie Churchill and various other allies to get Churchill attached to the Twenty-first Lancers. The literary result of this adventure was The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan (1899), a book that fulfilled Kitchener’s misgivings about having Churchill accompany the expedition. Criticisms published in the book, even though he omitted or modified most of them in later editions, laid the groundwork for the coolness between the two men when they were colleagues in the Liberal cabinet at the beginning of World War I—Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and Kitchener as Secretary for War—a coolness that was exacerbated by differences of opinion on the Dardanelles Campaign of 1915.
The River War begins with four chapters of background to the conflict in the Sudan and several more on the initial campaigns before Churchill’s arrival on the scene. There are detailed descriptions of the battles, including those that did not go well for the British. Describing the scene when the Mahdist forces overwhelmed the defensive lines of General Gordon in Khartoum in 1885, Churchill wrote: “Mad with the joy of victory and religious frenzy, they rushed upon him [Gordon] and, while he disdained even to fire his revolver, stabbed him in many places. The body fell down the steps and lay—a twisted heap—at the foot. There it was decapitated.” But the most memorable and colorful description of battle came when Churchill himself was part of the cavalry charge of the Twenty-first Lancers at the Battle of Omdurman:
Stubborn and unshaken infantry hardly ever meet stubborn and unshaken cavalry. Either the infantry run away and are cut down in flight, or they keep their head and destroy nearly all the horsemen by their musketry. On this occasion two living walls had actually crashed together. The Dervishes fought manfully. They tried to hamstring the horses. They fired their rifles, pressing the muzzles into the very bodies of their opponents. They cut reins and stirrup-leathers. They flung their throwing spears with great dexterity. They tried every device of cool, determined men practiced in war and familiar with cavalry; and, besides, they swung sharp, heavy swords which bit deep.
The charge, like the more famous Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, might have been, militarily, a mistake; but it was, like its predecessor, a glorious exploit, and Churchill, in the middle of it, shared in the glory.
This glory was already made known to the public through his columns in the Morning Post, which enabled Churchill not only to dine with the political elite in England but also to aspire, not yet twenty-five years old, to a political career. He ran as a Conservative candidate in a by-election and lost but did well enough to give himself some encouragement for the future. His potential, however, still needed some more development, and his opportunity came with the beginning of the Boer War in South Africa in 1899.
Fourth Churchill had resigned his commission in the Hussars before the byelection in 1899, but he sailed for South Africa both as a well-paid correspondent for the Morning Post and with a promise of a commission in the Lancashire Hussars. This dual position certainly made ambiguous his later claim to be a noncombatant, and there is some doubt whether his activities after the armored train that he was accompanying was wrecked could be viewed as strictly noncombatant, though he was unarmed (his pistol having been lost in the confusion of the wreck) when he was captured by the Boers. Shortly before he was to be released as a noncombatant from the prison camp in Pretoria, he escaped and made his way down the railway to the Portuguese port of Lourenço Marques, an adventure he described in detail in his London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900) and repeated with relish in My Early Life. The publicity of both his capture and his escape gained him a great deal of attention in England, as did his account of the Boer War campaigns in London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and Lan Hamilton’s March: Together with Extracts from the Diary of Lieutenant H. Frankland, a Prisoner of War at Pretoria (1900).
Upon Churchill’s return to England in 1900, he ran again as a Conservative candidate in the election of that year, and this time was elected as part of the Conservative victory in an election much of which was fought on the imperial issues of war in South Africa. Almost immediately he began a lucrative lecture tour in Britain recounting his South African adventures, and a somewhat less lucrative tour in the United States. The income from his public lectures gave him the financial resources to sit in Parliament, necessary because members of Parliament were not paid. Back in London he began working out a speaking style in Parliament that was most effective for him. He quickly learned that it was best to have a major speech fully prepared and largely written out, and then memorized, and soon he was speaking with some impact. Meanwhile he began a serious questioning of his political opinions and allegiances.
While he was in India, Churchill began his one and only novel, Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania, serialized in 1899 and published in 1900. It included something of a political statement that could be attributed to Churchill himself. The heroine, Lucille, modeled idealistically on Churchill’s mother, is married to Molara, the dictator of Laurania, but is attracted to Savrola, a patrician with democratic tendencies, modeled on Churchill himself, or perhaps his father. Savrola is ambitious but desirous to bring liberty, fairness, peace, and prosperity to the people. He is also a man of great courage and manages, despite violence, bombardment, betrayal, and exile, to establish a more just state for his people. The book is idealistic and romantic and continues to be reprinted.
While serving his apprenticeship in Parliament, Churchill was busy working on a biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, published in two volumes in 1906 and still recognized, despite some shortcomings, as one of his best works. The book was an act of homage to a father whom he admired but to whom he never had been able to get close. In this biography, Churchill concentrated on the more successful aspects of Lord Randolph’s political career and presented him in the best light possible. He saw his father’s Fourth Party and his championing of Tory democracy as an embodiment of Savrola’s patrician concern for the working class, and he gave this policy more consistency than Lord Randolph, essentially an opportunist in politics, ever had. Churchill decided that his father’s liberal principles would be his own, and this decision was the catalyst for the first big switch in his political career.
The occasion for Churchill’s growing dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party was the emerging split within the party over Joseph Chamberlain’s tariff reform campaign and Prime Minister Alfred Balfour’s attempt to shut down divisive debate by party members instead of coming out clearly, as Churchill wanted, in favor of continuing the Free Trade policy that had dominated political economic theory in Britain for at least a half century. Churchill saw himself as standing for cheap food for the working class. This conviction, and the feeling that the Conservative Party lacked any commitment to social reform, as well as a sense of frustration over the lack of any apparent movement in his own political career, led Churchill to defect to the Liberal Party in 1904. His victory in the election of 1906 was part of a Liberal landslide majority.
Though the switch in party allegiance earned Churchill the enduring hostility of many Conservatives and did not overcome the suspicions of many of his new Liberal colleagues, his political ambitions certainly were realized. From 1905 to 1915 he was continuously in office. He started out as Under Secretary for the Colonies, a position in which he was a constant trial to the Colonial Secretary Lord Elgin, who was continually faced with the task of keeping his subordinate’s enthusiasm in some sort of check. Together they tried to deal with the constitutional aftereffects of the Boer War and the annexation of the two Boer republics. While in this office, Churchill went on a four-month tour of East Africa in 1907-1908, partially for some sport, and partially because of his interest in colonial problems, which he proceeded to analyze in detail. The product of this tour was a slim volume, My African Journey (1908).
Shortly after Churchill’s return from South Africa in 1908, he was promoted to the cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. He also met Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, a twenty-two-year-old woman of “flawless beauty” (as Violet Bonham Carter recalled in a 1965 memoir), and they were married in September. Theirs was a long and affectionate relationship in which her only real rival was politics—even on their honeymoon Churchill carried on an extensive political correspondence. As much as it was within her power, she was often a moderating influence on some of his more extreme enthusiasms. They had five children: a son, Randolph, and four daughters, Diana, Sarah, Marigold (who died in 1921, aged two years and nine months), and Mary.
In 1910 Churchill succeeded David Lloyd George as Home Secretary. While at the Board of Trade and as Home Secretary, he worked with Lloyd George on the social legislation that began Britain’s journey to becoming a social welfare state. Labor exchanges, old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, and a national health-insurance scheme helped Churchill to fulfill, as he saw it, his duty to the working classes. On the other hand, as his duties as Home Secretary called for the maintenance of order in the increasingly volatile labor unrest between 1910 and 1914 and led to his dispatch of police and military units to strikebound areas, such actions gave him a reputation for being antilabor.
In 1911 Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty and was immediately transported from the more mundane duties of looking after the welfare of the people to the exciting international arena of enhancing national defense in the increasingly tense era preceding the outbreak of World War I. He was now working in the same milieu as had his illustrious ancestor, the first duke of Marlborough, and circumstances placed him in a situation that could win him a considerable amount of glory. In the meantime, he was thrust into the middle of the emotional debates of the naval race with Germany and the battle over appropriations for the construction of more dreadnoughts.
Churchill consistently supported a dreadnought construction program designed to keep Britain well ahead of any German construction, and naval estimates increased substantially. As the international crisis deepened in 1913 and 1914, he was one of the first cabinet ministers to see the necessity of supporting Foreign Minister Lord Grey’s policy of backing France in the event of war. When the fighting did break out in August 1914, he plunged with enthusiasm into the organization of war, though naval disasters at the beginning somewhat dimmed his luster. Still, he was willing to undertake such adventures as personally organizing the evacuation of Antwerp and pressing on his colleagues plans for ending the stalemate on the Western Front. That last endeavor landed him in a project that spelled temporary disaster to his career.
With the French and the British bogged down facing the Germans in trenches across Belgium and France, from the English Channel to Switzerland, and with their Russian allies having serious difficulties keeping their armies adequately equipped to prevail against the Germans, Austrians, and Turks, Churchill proposed a flank attack, first of all in the north, with an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein from the sea. When this plan met with opposition, he picked up a scheme for a naval attack through the Dardanelles to Constantinople, to drive the Turks out of the war, to encourage the Greeks, the Bulgarians, and the Romanians to ally against the Germans, and to open up a direct channel of supply to and from Russia. The attack could be by ships alone or with a coordinated land campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Churchill quickly became a convert to the Dardanelles scheme and in December 1914 began planning for a naval attack alone, barely noticing growing opposition from his colleagues, most ominously from Lord Fisher, Churchill’s own choice as First Sea Lord. When the naval attack failed, possibly because it had not been pushed vigorously enough, and a land operation was now added to the plan, Lord Kitchener was distinctly not enthusiastic about diversions of troops from the Western Front. British and Imperial troops began arriving at Gallipoli piecemeal, allowing the Turks to rally their defenses, and several months of murderous battle followed, with the allies pinned to the beaches, until the expedition was withdrawn in December 1915. By this time Churchill was no longer First Lord of the Admiralty.
Churchill had fallen from his exalted position as one of the architects of the British war effort as a result of several factors. His “impetuousness,” a term often used about Churchill by his colleagues, had led him to attempt to interfere in areas outside of his own specific responsibility, which created tension even with old allies, such as Lord Grey at the Foreign Office and Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer. The enthusiasm of his support for the Dardanelles project, often frustrated by the timidity and incompetence of field commanders at the local level, made Churchill an obvious and convenient scapegoat for the fiasco. Most importantly, the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, who had tolerated Churchill’s eccentricities, had come to the reluctant conclusion that a coalition with the Conservatives was essential to pursue the war, but the price of their leader, Bonar Law, was the dismissal of Churchill from the Admiralty.
The loss of the Admiralty and the revelation of how little support he had in the Liberal Party was a severe blow to Churchill and threw him into a period of the depression that hounded him throughout his life— “black dog” as he called it. His wife came to his rescue with a diversion. Churchill, who had never been interested in art, was persuaded to try experiments with his children’s paint boxes, and these efforts captured his interest. He quickly abandoned the pastels of watercolors in favor of the boldness of oils; his skill improved, and painting became his hobby and passion for the rest of his life. In “Painting as a Pastime,” included in his book of essays Thoughts and Adventures (1932), Churchill wrote about the time when he was dismissed from the Admiralty: “Like a sea-beast fished up from the depths, or a diver too suddenly hoisted, my veins threatened to burst from the fall in pressure. I had great anxiety and no means of relieving it; I had vehement convictions and small power to give effect to them.” From this dilemma painting rescued him, and he found that he could distract his mind even from politics for long periods of time.
By July 1917 Churchill’s political fortunes had revived, and he appeared to have been forgiven the Dardanelles debacle, if not by everyone, at least by his prime minister. Lloyd George wanted Churchill in the critical Munitions Ministry because, like Lloyd George himself, he could stir things up, push people, get things done, and could keep crucial munitions production at the level that Lloyd George’s control of that ministry had already achieved. Churchill, who was as usual constantly coming up with ideas and could not help trespassing on the territories of other ministries, did provide plenty of shells for the endless artillery barrages of the Western Front and also began producing large numbers of tanks for what he believed would be the final offensive in 1919, after the Americans had arrived in strength.
The downfall of the Lloyd George coalition, precipitated by a Conservative backbench revolt against continuing the wartime alliance and the defeat of the Lloyd George Liberals in the election of 1922, included Churchill’s losing decisively in his own constituency. He lost again, running as a Liberal, in the general election of 1923, and as an Independent Anti-Socialist in a 1924 by-election, before winning in the 1924 general election as a Constitutionalist. With no Conservative opponent in this last election, the victory marked a way station on his migration back to the Conservative Party. It also provided him with a safe House of Commons seat, in Epping, for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, he had on his mind the vindication of his disgrace over the Dardanelles, and he had begun work on The World Crisis: 1911-1918, published in six volumes (1923-1931).
The volumes of The World Crisis sold well. Here was the story of a tremendous conflict, told by an insider. It was full of maps, statistical tables, and extracts from the letters of the participants of the great drama, all set in the vivid if sometimes overblown style of a master storyteller, speaking of bloody battles in the military sphere and tense struggles in the political. It established, at least to Churchill’s own satisfaction, how he could have won the war years earlier if he had had full control and support in the Dardanelles Campaign from the beginning. Arthur Balfour, his sometimes friend and sometimes enemy, lightly mocked The World Crisis as “Winston’s brilliant autobiography, disguised as world history.”. John Maynard Keynes, the prominent economist who was no friend of Churchill’s economic policies in the 1920s, nevertheless wrote an admiring review in the Nation (9 March 1929):
The chronicle is finished. With what feelings does one lay down Mr. Churchill’s two-thousandth page? Gratitude to one who can write with so much eloquence and feeling of things which are part of the lives of all of us of the war generation, but which he saw and knew much closer and clearer. Admiration for his energies of mind and his intense absorption of intellectual interest and elemental emotion on what is for the moment the matter in hand—which is his best quality. A little envy, perhaps, for his undoubting conviction that frontiers, races, patriotisms, even wars if need be, are ultimate verities for mankind, which lends for him a kind of dignity and even nobility to events, which for others are only a nightmare interlude, something to be permanently avoided.
Having moved practically to the doorstep of the Conservative Party in the election of 1924, Churchill was invited the rest of the way when Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin offered him the cabinet post of Chancellor of the Exchequer, a post he held until the defeat of the Conservatives in the election of 1929. He approached his new ministry with his usual vigor, and at the same time he contributed a stream of advice to Baldwin on all matters political.
The Labour Party formed the government in 1929, and in the aftermath a growing rift developed between Churchill and most of the Conservative leadership over the issue of constitutional advances in India. When the Labour government, unable to cope with enormous problems because of the Depression, yielded to the formation of a coalition national government with Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald as prime minister—a coalition that, after the election of 1931, was massively supported by the Conservative Party-Churchill was not asked to be in the cabinet. Even more revealing of his isolation, when Baldwin succeeded MacDonald as prime minister in 1935, Baldwin felt no need to offer a cabinet office to his former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Churchill’s political career appeared to be effectively over.
Churchill had a congenial distraction while he was pursuing his ultimately futile opposition to Indian reform. He became involved in the rehabilitation of the political reputation of the first duke of Marlborough, who, Churchill felt, had been unjustly maligned by the nineteenth-century historian Thomas Babington Macaulay in his multivolume History of England from the Accession of James II (1848-1861). Macaulay had depicted the duke as lacking sexual, political, and financial morality and had labeled him a traitor. The research for Churchill’s four-volume Marlborough: His life and Times (1933-1938) probably began in 1931 or 1932; Churchill employed several researchers and visited the battlefields. The writing of these lengthy volumes proceeded briskly, and there were respectable sales in both Britain and the United States. In the same period he finished Thoughts and Adventures and Great Contemporaries, the latter not published until 1937 and revised in 1938, 1943, and 1958. In 1932 he also received from a publisher a considerable advance for the four volumes of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, finished in 1939 but not published until the 1950s, after extensive revisions. In addition to all these works, Churchill contributed well-paying articles to journals and newspapers. Since he could no longer rely on the salary of a cabinet minister, he counted on his writings to maintain an income large enough to keep his family in the lifestyle that Churchill expected.
Churchill’s war against the leadership of the Conservative Party over the issue of Indian constitutional reform, during which he had fought fruitlessly to alert the British public to the dangers being posed both to India and to the British Empire, had serious consequences for the other great crusade upon which he embarked in the 1930s. Churchill had badgered so persistently and had made claims about the consequences of ignoring the warnings that were essentially incapable of proof until a considerable period of time had passed, if at all, that he had undermined his credibility when he began to warn the leadership and the country of the dangers posed by Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
In The Gathering Storm, the first of his six volumes on The Second World War (1948-1953), Churchill outlines how his growing apprehension over the Nazi threat had become acute in 1936 when German troops marched into the Rhineland, which had been demilitarized by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. His speeches in Parliament and in public at times were followed with close attention and at other times were disregarded because they ran counter to the prevailing desire not only for keeping estimates for the armed forces low, but also for disarmament and the avoidance of armed conflict. Churchill desperately wanted to be in the cabinet, where he could exert greater pressure on his colleagues to heed his warnings. But if MacDonald, whom he despised, had ignored him, as did Baldwin, with whom his friendly relations of the 1920s had suffered because of the India quarrel, Churchill did not get any more consideration from Neville Chamberlain, who became prime minister in 1937, a move Churchill had supported. Chamberlain feared bringing Churchill into his cabinet because, as he explained, “If I take him into the Cabinet he will dominate it. He won’t give others a
chance of even talking.” Chamberlain preferred to be the dominant force in his cabinet.
Churchill developed many sources of information, even in the Foreign Office, and used the statistical information fed to him on the extent of German rearmament to reveal the growing strength of Germany and the momentum that would soon enable the Germans to undermine the security of even Britain and France. When Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet Hitler and returned home with the agreement that destroyed Czechoslovakia’s barriers against German attack (and shortly destroyed the independence of that state), Duff Cooper resigned from the cabinet, following the earlier resignation of Anthony Eden. Churchill was building allies among the younger leaders of the Conservatives. He commented in Parliament on what had happened in the negotiations on the Czech state: “£1 was demanded at the pistol’s point. When it was given, £2 were demanded at the pistol’s point. Finally the dictator consented to take £1.17s6d. and the rest in promises of goodwill for the future.” He continued that this concession was not the end of the problem but rather the beginning of a process that would compel Britain to fight for freedom. If Churchill’s stand against the Nazi threat was not as consistent as he later maintained in The Gathering Storm, it was still intensive enough in speeches and newspaper articles to ensure that when his dire predictions were vindicated, and Chamberlain led Britain into war with Germany in 1939 upon the German invasion of Poland, Churchill was brought into the cabinet, once again in the Admiralty.
The war for Churchill at the Admiralty, as well as for the nation, did not begin well. Churchill busied himself organizing the safety of the sea-lanes for the merchant fleet and launching a vigorous campaign against the German U-boats that were claiming casualties even in what had been considered protected areas. This campaign was a major concern throughout the war; protecting Britain’s vital supply lines extended eventually from the hunting of the submarines at sea to air attacks on their bases and manufacturing facilities. The British navy was also unable to prevent what became a successful German attack on and occupation of Norway.
Though the main brunt of the fighting had to this point been borne by the navy, the blame for the lack of success was pinned not on Churchill, who had the advantage of being only recently on the job, but on Chamberlain. Discontent within the country was matched by growing restlessness within Parliament, and the Labour opposition was soon joined in criticism by an increasing number of Conservatives. Chamberlain’s attempt to create a national coalition was effectively stymied by Labour’s refusal to serve in a Chamberlain cabinet, and soon pressure mounted from senior members of his own supporters within the Conservatives to make way for a new prime minister. When Chamberlain reluctantly bent to this pressure, the question of a successor became paramount. Public opinion polls placed Churchill narrowly in second place to Eden, but Chamberlain’s own preference was his Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. It was a preference shared by many leaders of all parties, on the grounds that Churchill was too impetuous. However, this preference was not shared by Halifax, who correctly realized that with Churchill in the cabinet, an essential, Churchill would soon be running the entire war effort—he was already up to his old habits at the Admiralty of poaching on the responsibilities of other ministers—and he might as well have the entire responsibility. Since Halifax would not budge, Chamberlain gave way, and on 10 May 1940, King George VI requested that Churchill form a new administration.
Churchill quickly formed a small war cabinet, consisting of himself, the two leading members of the Labour Party—Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood—and Halifax and Chamberlain, who efficiently and loyally served in this cabinet until cancer forced him to resign a few months later. For Churchill, a coalition forced him to maintain a careful balancing act, with representatives in the larger cabinet from Labour and the Liberals, as well as from various factions of the Conservatives. In addition, he from time to time brought in individuals from outside the parliamentary ranks to make use of their talents and influence. To Parliament in his opening speech he offered an example of his talent for coining memorable phrases: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Even discounting his immediate invigoration of the war effort in the administration, and the ceaseless monitoring of events and possibilities that could bring Britain to victory, Churchill’s speeches in Parliament and on the radio offered the inspiration that Britain stood in great need of in the many dark years of warfare to follow.
The life of Churchill to the end of the war was the history of the British participation in World War II; he almost literally lived at his office for most of the week, to be in close contact with events. When he felt it necessary, he attempted direct diplomacy and flew to Paris after Germany invaded France in an effort to prop up the quickly fading French war effort. When Hitler invaded Russia in 1941, Churchill put on hold his longstanding opposition to the Soviet state to offer aid: “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” Following up, in 1942 he flew to Moscow to meet Joseph Stalin and explain why Britain was not yet in a position to open a second front on the European continent. Almost ceaselessly he worked to get the moral and material support of the United States.
Churchill had spent considerable periods of time after 1929 touring in the United States, and his books were almost as well known there as in Britain. He did not hesitate to claim kinship to the Americans because of his mother. He found a sympathetic audience in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who worked hard to overcome the isolationism that had dominated American opinion and politics since 1919. In 1941 this sympathy bore fruit when Britain and its dominions stood virtually alone facing imminent invasion by the victorious Germans. The American Congress passed a Lend-Lease Bill, which provided Britain with material and financial resources. When the Americans entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the relationship and cooperation between Churchill and Roosevelt grew even closer as they met in Casablanca in 1943 to discuss war strategy after the elimination of the Germans from North Africa. The two allies also met twice in Quebec, in 1943 and 1944.
It was good to have allies as powerful as the Americans and the Russians. The Russians had hung on, stubbornly bringing the German juggernaut to a halt and then, in return, began destroying the German armies on their road to Berlin. The Americans and the British in 1943 opened up a “second front,” invaded Italy, and in a series of hard-fought battles, pushed their way up the peninsula, and drove Italy out of the war. In June 1944, D-Day landings in Normandy began the process of clearing the Netherlands, Belgium, and France of German forces, and early in 1945 a Canadian army including British forces crossed the Rhine River with an American army, opening a campaign that led to the final disintegration of the German armies. While the British military were now on the winning end of the war, Churchill was at times less than happy with his powerful allies, as his fertile ideas on the conduct of the war and the postwar settlement met with frequent defeat.
When Germany finally collapsed and surrendered in May 1945, Churchill’s pleasure in the victory was marred by his premonition of a Soviet-dominated Europe. He was tired and unwell, but performed his duties. He lunched with the king, made a victory speech on the radio and one in Parliament, spoke to vast crowds celebrating victory in the streets, attended a thanksgiving service, and dined with members of his family. He then faced the prospect of the continuation of the war with Japan, and the collapse of the coalition in the House of Commons, which had seen Britain through all the difficulties of the European campaign. Partisan politics reemerged.
Having just fought a war with the help of the leaders of the Labour Party, whom he was to praise as valuable and loyal colleagues, Churchill in the election campaign in the summer of 1945 apparently rediscovered all his old antipathies to socialism. He proceeded to state openly that a Labour government would institute programs that would bring in the initial stages of a totalitarian state. If this claim was designed as a scare tactic, it did not work with the majority of the voters. It was soon clear that while Churchill was popular, the party he led, perceived as having left Britain in poor shape to face Hitler, was not yet forgiven by the British electorate. Churchill was disappointed when Labour won a landslide victory.
Out of office, and merely a spectator as the war against Japan came to an end in August with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Churchill turned once again to the portion of his life’s work that he had set aside for the six years of war. He began to write, working on what became a best-seller both in Britain and the United States, his six volumes of The Second World War. Though his publishers had initially feared that the volumes were overdocumented for the public taste, these fears did not appear to be justified. The book-buying public warmed to the authentic voice of one of the major and best-known participants in that great event; readers felt that they were being let in on the great affairs of state that had remained hidden to them. Though a work of history, it was also a memoir of a remarkable period of Churchill’s life, and Churchill was now a public figure of such dimension that a memoir appealed to people who in their various ways had shared in the events that he described.
While Churchill was busy writing, the Labour government was having its difficulties trying to run a state with resources that had been seriously depleted during the war. Its program of reforms had to give way too often to the need for austerity, and not unnaturally many people were disenchanted with the slow pace of Britain’s economic recovery. When the election of 1950 was held, the landslide majority melted away to a slim majority of fewer than twenty seats over the combined total of the opposition, most of whom were Conservatives. The Labour cabinet ministers still failed to find answers to the problems that faced the nation, and, discouraged by a fractious opposition and a dwindling majority, Attlee wearily called another election in the autumn of 1951. Labour polled more votes than the Conservatives, but the Conservatives had achieved a majority, though a smaller one than Churchill predicted. It was enough. Churchill was once again prime minister and had won his first election as leader of a political party.
While in opposition Churchill had assumed the role of European elder statesman, and in a major speech delivered in Zurich in 1946 he put his case for a united Europe that would feature a partnership between France and a revived Germany. This unity was a theme he promoted over the next few years; but Churchill was vague about just what Britain’s role in such a union would be. Clearly Britain was an integral part of the core of Europe, and France would need its help to balance Germany in the future. On the other hand, Churchill could not envision Britain without its empire or the Commonwealth that was continuing to emerge from the empire. Just as clearly, the Commonwealth could not fit within the framework of a united Europe. His great idea of a united Europe did not appeal to the Labour government that was still busy trying to find the resources for its own great ideas. Now, as prime minister, Churchill bent his efforts to achieve another one of his plans.
Churchill, who had never been comfortable with the high casualty rates in the war and had second-guessed himself about the appropriateness of the bombing that destroyed the German city of Dresden, was appalled when nuclear advances had led to the creation of the hydrogen bomb. While he somewhat favored the bomb as a deterrent, he knew his history well enough to believe that a weapon once created had every chance of being used, as the atomic bomb had been in Japan. The impact of a hydrogen bomb explosion detonated in anger would be horrendous, and Churchill tried to persuade President Dwight Eisenhower and Stalin to hold a summit conference that would solve the outstanding problems of the Cold War and end the specter of a devastating war between the superpowers. To Churchill’s great disappointment, Stalin and Eisenhower and their advisers were not interested, and international rivalries and tensions continued unabated.
Churchill’s health appeared to be holding up. He was careful to get medical attention as soon as anything troubled him, and occasionally he traveled with his doctor in tow for added security. But in June 1953 he suffered a minor stroke, which incapacitated him for a period of time. From that point there was increasing talk of his retiring to allow Eden to succeed him, and to a certain extent Churchill fed the speculation. Finally, on 5 April 1955, he succumbed to increasing pressure and resigned, but kept his seat in Parliament.
In October 1953 Churchill learned he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values,” as the citation read. He could not attend the ceremonies in Stockholm in December, but King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden presented him with the award at the Swedish Embassy in London on 12 November. The award pleased Churchill, especially the monetary prize; he wrote to his wife, “£12, 100 free of tax. Not so bad.” Biographer Roy Jenkins reports that Churchill later said he would rather have been given the Nobel Peace Prize; but that award might have been controversial, because many people considered Churchill a warmonger. The Nobel Prize had little effect on his career, because of his age and fragile health.
For the last ten years of his life, Churchill went into gradual but obvious decline. He suffered a series of small strokes, a broken leg, and a reduction in his indulgent lifestyle. He had to cut down on his brandy and his trademark cigars; he had to resist his wife’s pressuring him to go on a diet; and he had to have a male nurse to watch over him in case of further falls. He took vacations in the Mediterranean and grieved as many of his old friends died. He suffered through the suicide of his daughter Diana in 1963. While he could, he undertook the revisions of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, published in four volumes.
Churchill was made an honorary citizen of the United States in 1963. Even though he was not able to attend the ceremony, and was represented by his son Randolph, he appreciated the honor granted him by the American Congress, as he had appreciated the honor of being allowed to address Congress on three occasions, in 1941, 1942, and 1952. Churchill felt his inheritance from his mother had stood him well, and though often frustrated with American policy, he clearly recognized the importance for Britain of American friendship.
Churchill suffered another stroke early in 1965, and on 24 January he died. He was given a state funeral, a rare honor for one not of royal blood. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall, and the funeral was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral. A special train carried him to his burial place in the churchyard at Bladon, next to the Blenheim Palace estate where he had been born more than ninety years earlier.
Churchill ended his life as perhaps the bestknown British statesman of all time. A partial explanation for his good fortune appears to be that Churchill arrived on the political scene not simply as a Churchill, or the son of a noted father, but as a known author whose works were reasonably well read. He was a capable writer who had a penchant for heroics and the ability and opportunity to highlight his actions. He therefore entered the House of Commons in 1900 as a star, a relatively minor one perhaps, but still a star. Once he moved to the Liberal Party and was given political office, he was able to translate the experience and skills he had developed as an author into the ability to organize the departments that he was placed in charge of, a skill that was appreciated by his superiors in the party.
Churchill also could expound and defend his actions in government both vocally, in the House of Commons, or in writing, usually effectively. With Churchill, speechwriting was an aspect of his literary pursuits, and the two processes gradually intertwined. He also continued writing specifically for publication, and the publications kept his name before the public even when he was not in office. Newspapers and book publishers often competed for the privilege of publishing his work and were willing to pay handsomely, because his writing was popular enough with the public to be profitable. Churchill made his living through his writings and maintained a lifestyle at a comfortable, even indulgent, level.
Included in the scope of Churchill’s histories are his biographies of his father and the duke of Marlborough as well as the fragments of his autobiography, My African Journey and My Early Life. His books of essays, Thoughts and Adventures and Great Contemporaries, are about his adventures and the great men he has known who had made an impact upon him. The novel Savrola is his heroic and romantic dream. Even A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, published after he had received the Nobel Prize, represents Churchill’s definition of who he really was and reflected his strong patriotism. His type of history, based on the personal element of his life, in the hands of a skilled writer, automatically creates with it an interested readership, carried along by emotion and pointed relevance. They were histories that used the past to illuminate the present.
Churchill was mainly a storyteller, and the storyteller must deal with the specific, the individual whose actions must be described and to some extent understood and explained. One of the hardest tasks of a master storyteller is to create an atmosphere that catches the readers immediately. One example in Churchill’s work is his description in The World Crisis of Britain’s entry into World War I:
It was 11 o’clock at night—12 by German rime—when the ultimatum expired. The windows of the Admiralty were thrown wide open in the warm night air. Under the roof from which Nelson had received his orders were gathered a small group of Admirals and Captains and a cluster of clerks, pencil in hand, waiting. Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing “God save the King” floated in. On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke of the hour boomed out, a rustle of movement swept across the room. The war telegram, which meant “Commence hostilities against Germany,” was flashed to the ships and establishments under the White Ensign all over the world.
I walked across the Horse Guards Parade to the Cabinet room and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done.
It is simple and direct, not the kind of prose that would have the ordinary reader reaching for a dictionary, and it brought the reader immediately into the event. In the same way, in his excellent descriptions of battle scenes, the narrative flows with an elegance that speaks of elevated heroism, and Churchill once more brings the reader directly into the center of the conflict. Some of the best examples come from Marlborough: His Life and Times. Churchill took great pains to present a balanced account of Marlborough’s campaigns and battles and to give due credit to both his allies’ contributions and the strategies and tactics of his opponents. Churchill tried to convey the sense of the deadly confrontations of the battles, as he did in his description of Marlborough’s final great victory, Malplaquet, in 1709. One of Marlborough’s allies, the young Prince of Orange, led his forces repeatedly against the French trenches:
Here, in line with the Highlanders fought the redoubtable Dutch Blue Guards, the flower of their army. The Prince of Orange had most of his staff shot around him. General Oxenstiern fell dead at his side. The Prince’s own horse collapsed, and he advanced on foot.... Concealed... was a nest of French batteries mounting twenty cannon. From these there now burst a horrible flanking fire of cannon-balls and grapeshot which tore through the Dutch and Scottish ranks, killing or wounding thousands of men as they moved in faultless discipline towards their goal. The ground was soon heaped with blue uniforms and Highlanders, over whom the rear attack moved forward steadily, paying their toll. Nevertheless the young Prince, his surviving generals, and Deputy Goslinga arrived, with the mass of the Dutch and the Scots, before the French entrenchments, endured their volleys at close quarters, tore away the abatris, stormed the parapets, and captured the works. But they were now too few.
Churchill’s histories have not been without their critics, both immediately after they were published and up to the present. He was an amateur historian, not a trained professional. He wrote his histories too quickly, not giving himself sufficient time for reflection or checking. There were occasional errors of fact and, in the view of the critics, many errors of interpretation. Because the books were so centered on Churchill and his family, he was attacked for being self-serving, out to justify his policies during World War I, for example, or, in the case of his biographies, to whitewash the reputations of his father and of the duke of Marlborough. His coverage of what critics considered to be important topics was flawed; cultural, intellectual, social, and economic analyses were seldom present, if at all. Early in his writing career he had developed the habit of extensive quotations of documents in the belief (erroneous belief, said the critics) that the documents told the complete story better than the historian. This practice made some of his works much longer than they needed to be. And the justification for the quotation was further vitiated by the fact that Churchill was selective in his choice of documents. In The Second World War, critics pointed out, he constantly quoted his own letters and memoranda, seldom giving the replies. Documents in some of his histories were edited in such ways as to make them untrustworthy. Despite all these criticisms, Robin Prior, himself a critic of Churchill’s The World Crisis, pointed out in a 1983 study that Churchill’s histories have lived on when “more accurate works have been long forgotten.”
Churchill’s histories emphasized mainly politics and wars because these were subjects about which he felt most comfortable writing; he could use his own experiences to interpret the politics and wars of his time and of the past. He believed that an historian could and should judge people and events, though he was more likely to fully express his views on the distant past rather than on the periods when the people concerned were still living. An extensive portion of volume four of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is given to a description of the American Civil War, in which he did not hesitate to judge the generals. He was clearly hostile to Ulysses S. Grant and his policy of attrition but was favorable to Robert E. Lee. Even with Lee, though, he could be critical if he felt criticism was merited; after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee carried out a successful retreat: “He carried with him his wounded and his prisoners. He had lost only two guns, and the war.”
For most of his histories, Churchill sought help. When writing the biography of his father, he made use of the information available from his father’s still living contemporaries. For The World Crisis he received documents and other help from his own contemporaries. There were always friends to read his manuscripts and suggest corrections in grammar and punctuation and even advice on substance. In his last three lengthy works, Marlborough: His Life and Times, The Second World War, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, he employed research assistants to search out documents and to check facts. As he rewrote his manuscript for A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in the 1950s, he sought the advice of eminent scholars in the various periods of history he was covering. Some were even asked for papers on aspects of their specialties. Churchill, however, did not always take advice and would absorb the research and papers and rework them to fit his own interpretations and interests. The books he produced, no matter how much help he had along the way, were his own work, his own judgments, and written in his own style.
If Churchill had critics of his work as an historian, he also had critics of his style of writing and speaking. Manfred Weidhorn, an English professor and author of many works on Churchill, summarized many of these assessments in his 1979 study. Churchill was often redundant, sentimental, melodramatic, and portentous; he too frequently could not resist purple passages such as “I turn from the pink and ochre panorama of Athens and Piraeus, scintillating with delicious life and plumed by the classic glories and endless miseries and triumphs of its history” (from Victory: War Speeches, 1946). His style and language could be archaic, too closely suggestive of his early models, Gibbon and Macaulay. He was also prone to overuse of superlatives and exaggeration; too many events that he was involved in were presented as being vital or great moments in history.
On the other hand, Churchill’s style of writing and speaking had many strengths. He was a master of creating memorable sentences and phrases such as those in his wartime speeches, recorded in The Second World War: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” and “we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Churchill’s sense of humor is constantly present in all his works, but most notably in My Early Life, where much of the fun is at his own expense. Often his sense of involvement and emotion shines through.
Two passages from The Second World War are excellent examples of Churchill’s style at its best. Near the end of the first volume, Churchill summarizes the impact of becoming prime minister:
Thus, then, on the night of the tenth of May, at the outset of this mighty battle, I acquired the chief power in the State, which henceforth I wielded in ever-growing measure for five years and three months of world war, at the end of which time, all our enemies having surrendered unconditionally or being about to do so, I was immediately dismissed by the British electorate from all further conduct of their affairs.
This passage is succinct and powerful in its emotion. More exuberant was Churchill’s reaction when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:
So we had won after all! Yes, after Dunkirk; after the fall of France; after the horrible episode of Oran; after the threat of invasion, when, apart from the Air and the Navy, we were an almost unarmed people; after the deadly struggle of the U-boat war—the first Battle of the Atlantic, gained by a hands-breadth; after seventeen months of lonely fighting and nineteen months of my responsibility in dire stress, we had won the war. England would live; Britain would live; the Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire would live. How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end, no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious. We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end.
Perceptions of style vary with the individual. Some people prefer the ornate, others stark simplicity. Most people can tolerate varying combinations of both. It is unlikely that many of the readers of Churchill’s works have been or are bothered by the shortcomings of his style as perceived by his critics. Churchill’s prose often reveals its power and attraction if read aloud. Churchill created the impression that he was talking to the reader, often because that was exactly what he was doing. He had fallen into the habit of dictating his works, whether they were books, speeches, newspaper articles, or memos to the civil servants of the departments he controlled. Maurice Ashley, the historian who was one of the researchers for Churchill’s biography of the duke of Marlborough, described Churchill’s system as it had evolved by 1930: “He would walk up and down the room (when I worked for him it was usually his bedroom) puffing at a cigar while a secretary patiently took it all down as best she could in Pitman. Occasionally he would say, ‘Scrub that and start again.’ At times he would stop. . .; at others he would be entirely swept on by the stimulus of his imagination.” Churchill, with his writings, talked to people and took them into his confidence.
Siwertz, in his presentation speech for the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, noted that “Churchill’s eloquence in the fateful hours of freedom and human dignity was heart-stirring.” Siwertz was referring to Churchill’s speeches during World War II; but elements of this eloquence were always present in his written work and made him a fitting candidate for the Nobel Prize.
Roosevelt and Churchill, Their Secret Wartime Correspondence, edited by Francis L. Loewenheim, Harold D. Langley, and Manfred Jonas (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1975);
Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 3 volumes, edited by Warren F. Kimball (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984);
The Secret History of World War II: The Ultra-Secret Wartime Letters and Cables of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, edited by Stewart Richardson (New York: Richardson & Steirman, 1986);
The Churchill-Eisenhower Correspondence, 1953-1955, edited by Peter G. Boyle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990);
Winston Churchill and Emery Reves: Correspondence, 1937-1964, edited by Martin Gilbert (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997);
Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill, edited by Mary Soames (London & New York: Doubleday, 1998); republished as Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchilb (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999);
The Duce’s Dossier: The Secret Mussolini-Churchill Wartime Correspondence, edited by Anthony J. Pansini (Waco, Tex.: Greenvale, 2001);
Defending the West: The Truman-Churchill Correspondence, 1945-1960, edited by G. W. Sand (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004).
Frederick Woods, A Bibliography of the Works of Sir Winston Churchill, KG, OM, CH (London: Vane, 1963; revised edition, London: Kaye & Ward, 1969);
Curt J. Zoller, Annotated Bibliography of Works About Sir Winston S. Churchill (Armonk, N.Y. & London: M. E. Sharpe, 2004).
Randolph S. Churchill and Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, 24 volumes (London: Heinemann, 1966-2000; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966-2000)—includes The Churchill War Papers, edited by Gilbert;
Henry Pelting, Winston Churchill (London: Macmillan, 1974);
William Manchester, The Last lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Fisions of Glory 1874-1932 (Boston & Toronto: Little, Brown, 1983);
Mary Soames, Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter: A Memoir by His Daughter (London: Collins, 1990; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990);
Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (New York: Holt, 1991);
John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory: A Political Biography (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993);
Norman Rose, Churchill: An Unruly Ife (London & New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994);
Geoffrey Best, Churchill: A Study in Greatness (London: Hambledon & London, 2001);
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus &Giroux, 2001);
David Coombs and Minnie Churchill, Sir Winston Churchill’s Ife Through His Paintings (London: Chaucer, 2003; Delray Beach, Fla.: Levenger, 2003).
Maurice Ashley, Churchill as Historian (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968);
Violet Bonham Carter, Winston Churchill as I Knew Him, (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode/Collins, 1965);
Robert Rhodes James, Churchill: A Study in Failure 1900-1939 (London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1970);
Robin Prior, Churchill’s “World Crisis” as History (London & Canberra: Croom Helm, 1983);
Mary Soames, A Churchill Family Album: A Personal Anthology (London: A. Lane, 1982);
Soames, Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979; revised and updated, 2003);
A. J. P. Taylor and others, Churchill Revised: A Critical Assessment (New York: Dial, 1969);
Algis Valiunas, Churchill’s Military Histories: A Rhetorical Study (Lanham, Boulder, New York & Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002);
Manfred Weidhorn, Sir Winston Churchill (Boston: Twayne, 1979);
Chris Wrigley, Winston Churchill: A Biographical Companion (Santa Barbara, Denver & Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2002).
The papers of Sir Winston Churchill are located in the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Information is available online at <http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/churchill_papers/the_papers/>.