(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, generally draws praise from his fellow historians and literary critics for his six volumes of the eight volume authorized biography of Churchill (The first two volumes were written by Churchill’s son, Randolph. Gilbert carried on the work after Randolph’s death in 1968.) Many have termed Gilbert’s biography “magisterial.”
But you know there have to be some who find fault. A common criticism of Gilbert’s volumes is he simply tells a narrative, albeit lucidly and with an eye for revealing details.
Where are the historian’s opinions, some critics ask?
That question was asked most intensely when the biography’s final volume, Never Despair, was released. The work contains neither an evaluative summary of Churchill’s life nor any assessment of “his impact on our world and the future.”
Gilbert’s answer was then as it is now that his first purpose was to record Churchill’s life. He also pointed out that a biographer can’t include everything a person does, so what’s put in and emphasized in the work as against what’s left out or given brief notice is really a biographer’s exercise of opinion.
But some critics still weren’t satisfied. So Gilbert released a statement headed: "From The Unopinionated Author." Here’s the heart of it:
“Churchill was indeed a noble spirit, sustained in his long life by a faith in the capacity of man to live in peace, to seek prosperity, and to ward off threats and dangers by his own exertions.
His love of country, his sense of fair play, his hopes for the human race, were matched by formidable powers of work and thought, vision and foresight. His path had often been dogged by controversy, disappointment and abuse, but these had never deflected him from his sense of duty and his faith in the British people.
In the last years, when power passed, to be followed by extreme old age with all its infirmity and sadness, Churchill's children expressed to him in private the feelings which many of his fellow countrymen also felt . . .
From his daughter Mary had come words of solace, when at last his life's great impulses were fading. ‘In addition to all the feelings a daughter has for a loving, generous father,’ she wrote, ‘I owe you what every Englishman, woman & child does - Liberty itself.’ ”