His second influence was the great Irish-American politician Bourke Cockran, whom
he met on his first trip to the USA. Churchill wrote of Cockran: "His conversations,
in point, in pith, in rotundity, in antithesis, and in comprehension, exceeded anything
I have ever heard." You could fairly say that Churchill's oratorical style was a
combination of Lord Randolph's and Bourke Cockran's, with a little of Macaulay's
and Gibbon's phraseology, and (as Churchill put it) "some of my own from time to
LP: Winston did become the only thing his father ever thought he
would: a soldier. Isn't this when he also first became a reader, and followed in
his father's footsteps as far as what he read - starting with the eight volumes
of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?
RML: Yes indeed. Though I'm sure they both read Gibbon, I don't
know if he read the same books as his father. Stationed in India in 1896, he spent
the long, hot, tropical afternoons reading while his fellow officers slept. He put
in five or six hours a day. Lord Randolph had died in 1895, and his mother was now
his champion. She sent Winston huge tracts: Gibbon's Decline and Fall
and his autobiography; Macaulay's History of England and his Essays;
Plato's Republic; Aristotle's Politics; Schopenhauer's Studies
in Pessimism; Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population;
Darwin's The Origin of Species.
Winston became an
avid reader while he was in the Army
He read the Parliamentary Debates for the last half century, considering which side
he would have taken on each issue. He turned to religious works and books challenging
religion, such as Winwood Reade's The Martyrdom of Man and Lecky's Rise
and Influence of Rationalism and History of European Morals. He
memorized Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and they stood him in good stead
as the years went by.
Churchill does admit in his autobiography that "It was a
curious education. First because I approached it with an empty, hungry mind, and
with fairly strong jaws; and what I got I bit; secondly because I had no one to
tell me: ‘This is discredited.' ‘You should read the answer to that by so and so;
the two together will give you the gist of the argument.' ‘There is a much better
book on that subject,' and so forth."
LP: How did he become a historian?
RML: Like many brilliant people he had no formal training in this
field. He learned out of necessity, while writing his second book, The River War,
a masterly work on Britain's
reconquest of the Sudan in 1898. He had determined that the book would begin with
a historical account of the country and Britain's role there; it required considerable
research, and he was praised for the evenness of his historical backgrounders. His
chief inspiration at that stage was Alexander Kinglake, a historian of the Crimean
War. As late as 1953, when a student asked him how he should go about becoming a
historian, Churchill replied, "Read Kinglake!" Scholars who have read Kinglake tell
me they can trace the development of Churchill's narrative style in those volumes.
"He memorized Bartlett's Familiar Quotations,
and they stood him in good stead as the years went by."
He developed more historical discipline while writing the biography of his father,
Lord Randolph Churchill, in 1908. Then he introduced the personal narrative
with his account of World War I, The World Crisis. Here, as later with
The Second World War, Churchill followed the example of Daniel Defoe's
Memoirs of a Cavalier , describing great events while explaining (defending,
in some cases) the role he had played in them.
LP: In The Dream , Winston tells his father about the
two world wars but never alludes to his role in them. Since this was Winston's story,
why didn't he use it as an opportunity to redeem himself with his father - if
only in his dream?
"It would be a much less haunting story if Lord Randolph
learned the truth. But it is very much in Winston's character that he leaves his
father in the dark."
RML: This is the most poignant aspect of The Dream and
the one that puzzles the reader. You'll recall that Churchill said that history
would be kind to him because he intended to write that history himself. He was so
anxious to defend and explain his actions in both world wars. Why was he reticent
to lay the same case before his father?
For one thing, it has never been proved that Churchill himself was certain he had
made a permanent mark. Oh sure, we know he was an egotist and called himself a great
man; but inside, he despaired that victory in World War II, to which he had so powerfully
contributed, also meant not only the end of the Empire he considered a force for
good, but the end of Britain's preeminence in the world. Later on he despaired also
that a close relationship between Great Britain and the United States - his
second great postwar goal after peace itself - did not
materialize. Late in life he remarked, "Yes, I have worked very hard and accomplished
a great deal - only to accomplish little in the end."
"Part of the reason he doesn't try to redeem himself in
The Dream lies in the fatalism that was always part of his character."
Part of the reason he doesn't try to redeem himself in The Dream lies,
I suspect, in this attitude - and also in the fatalism that was always part
of his character. Churchill had defied fate, resisting the idea that foreign tyrants
were invincible, for example - no prominent British leader save Churchill, in
1940, would have stayed in the war after Dunkirk. Yet at the same time he had this
fatalistic notion that he had achieved nothing permanent, no transcendental greatness.
Winton's father influenced his oratorical style
The Dream offers him one last chance - but what would he say? His father
is almost disbelieving as Winston unwinds the terrible history of the 20th century.
Would he have believed that his son, in 1940, stood alone between civilization and
barbarism? It is a question for readers of The Dream to answer. It is part
of the artistry of the tale that the inquisitive young father in his 40s never learns
the role his 73-year-old son played in the world. It would be a much less haunting
story if Lord Randolph learned the truth. But it is very much in Winston's character
that he leaves his father in the dark.
LP: What's the abiding lesson of The Dream for fathers
and sons-and parents and children?
RML: Oh my - that sounds like the old fraternity initiation
question, "State your philosophy for living among men." For children, perhaps the
lesson is: hold nothing back - life is too short. Young Winston was badly affected
when his father, whom he so adored, refused to take him seriously, and was gone
before Winston could prove his worth. We lose our parents and then we say to ourselves,
why didn't we do this and that? Why didn't we talk over X and Y while they were
still with us? But it is too late. The Dream focuses on the implications
of that mistake.
For parents, the lesson may be: express your love.
Lord Randolph says, "You were very young, and I loved you dearly. Old people are
always very impatient with young ones. Fathers always
expect their sons to have their virtues without their faults." But Randolph, while
living, never expressed such kindly understanding to his son.
"Perhaps the lesson is: hold nothing back - life is
Historically, the passing of Lord Randolph in 1895 marked the beginning of Winston's
meteoric career: soldier, author, statesman. Think of what happened just in these
twelve months. He met his chief mentor, Bourke Cockran; paid his first visit to
"The Great Republic"; heard bullets fired in anger for the first time, in Cuba;
and began his self-education, with books sent by a new ally who henceforth would
be devoted to him: his mother. Churchill once said, "Nothing surpasses 1940." Yet
until 1940, nothing surpassed 1895.
Robert Pilpel, the author of Churchill in America, has written an article
The Churchill Centre's Finest Hour that expresses this point
more eloquently than I have:
"We can never know for certain how a person would have developed if
one or another aspect of his life had been different. But what is clear with
regard to Churchill - as his letters at the time and his writings in later
years attest - is that a life which before 1895 seemed destined to yield
a narrow range of skimpy achievements became from 1895 onwards a
life of glorious epitomes and stunning vindications."
All photographs are from Churchill
Archives Centre, Churchill College