Winston Churchill “lived from book to book, and from one article to the next”


Time Magazine‘s list of “bests” are often a pile of rubbish – but I was gratified to see one personal favorite given pride of place in “All-TIME 100 Best Non-Fiction Books“:

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (published in 1988) was William Manchester‘s sequel to The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (published in 1983). Alone picks up the story with Churchill cast into the political wilderness and entering what the author believed was the most crucial period of the politician’s extraordinary life — his “finest hour,” if you will — which culminated in his becoming Prime Minister of Britain in 1940, his country once again at war with Germany. Churchill, as Manchester poignantly puts it, “resolved to lead Britain and her fading empire in one last great struggle worthy of all they had been.”

I read this unforgettable book some years ago – stunning, in its step-by-step revelation of Winston Churchill‘s dogged, determined, and humiliating journey through the 1930s to warn a resistant England of the growing dangers of Hitler’s Germany. The war weary U.K. was famously allergic to evidence and eloquence, leading it to the brink of annihilation when Hitler finally attacked.

His study at Chartwell

Partly it was in Churchill’s nature to be so.  In his first book he wrote: “Nothing is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result” and “There are men who derive as stern an exaltation from the proximity of danger and ruin, as others from success.” But the fortitude to face humiliation, rejection, and loneliness is never nature alone.

I was so impressed by Manchester’s book, his last, that I gave a copy to Toyko rock star, and peacenik Agnes Chan when she took her PhD at Stanford in 1994 (she’s the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Japan).  It is at once a depressing and a fortifying work for the peacemakers of the world, but offers a salutary lesson: Peace without justice is no peace, and, as Augustine said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

But something else impressed me.  Few know that Churchill made his living as a journalist.  Every night, in his magnificent Norman-era estate Chartwell, after the nightly dinner party with tuxedos and evening gowns, silver buckets of champagne, the Gruyère, the pâté, soup, oysters, caviar, after the port, brandy, and cigars were finished, he would shuffle up to his study at about 11 p.m. and begin his working day in his slippers, “entering through the Tudor doorway with its molded architrave…”

Churchill's desk at Chartwell

Manchester writes:  “Only after entering his employ will [his assistant] Bill Deakin discover, to his astonishment, that Churchill lacks a large private income, that he lives like a pasha yet must support his extravagant life with his pen. The Churchill children are also unaware that, as [his daughter] Mary will later put it, the family ‘literally lived from book to book, and from one article to the next.’ Her mother, who knows, prays that each manuscript will sell.”

“…he enters the room in his scarlet, green, and gold dressing gown, the cords trailing behind him. Before greeting his researcher and the two secretaries on duty tonight, he must read the manuscript he dictated the previous evening and then revise the latest galleys, which arrived a few hours earlier from London. Since Churchill’s squiggled red changes exceed the copy set – the proofs look as though several spiders strained in crimson ink wandered across the pages – his printers’ bills are shocking. But the expense is offset by his extraordinary fluency. Before the night is out, he will have dictated between 4,000 and 5,000 words. On weekends he may exceed ten thousand words.”

I envy the fluency.  I envy the output. I even envy the study, in the oldest, 11th century part of Chartwell.  And above I envy the courage, bravado, and style.  I do not envy the pâté de foie gras, the trout, the shoulder of lamb, lobster, dressed crab, Dover sole, the roast beef, and the endless gin.  It’s an astonishment they all did not perish before 30.

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One Response to “Winston Churchill “lived from book to book, and from one article to the next””

  1. Quid plura? | “In the distance, the city lights flickered in the bay…” Says:

    […] The Book Haven admires Churchill in the 1930s. […]