Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Churchill Series – July 10, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

On July 8, 1902 Beatrice Webb, age 43 and a prominent socialist who would later help found both the Fabian Society and the London School of Econmics, was a guest at a dinner party at which Churchill, then 27 and sitting in his first Parliament, was also a guest.

Webb recorded her impressions of Churchill which I posted yesterday. Today I want to comment on Webb’s observations.

Webb begins by saying she found Churchill “[r]estless – almost intolerably so, without capacity for sustained and unexciting labor . . .” If by “restless” she means ambitious to improve his station and quick to move from one subject to another, I agree.

As for his lacking “capacity for sustained and unexciting labor,” Webb is wrong. By age 27 Churchill was a published author and a rising politician who friends at the time often remarked spent long hours working on a brief speech. Throughout his life Churchill demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for sustained and very often unexciting labor.

Webb goes on to call our hero: “egotistical, bumptious, shallow-minded and reactionary, but with a certain personal magnetism, great pluck and some originality – not of intellect, but of character. More of the American speculator than the English aristocrat”

Webb’s choice of words from “egotistical” right through to “some originality” could almost be the default description of Churchill at that time. Egotistical, bumptious, etc all appear in letters and diaries of those who met and knew Churchill, including his friends. So does the suggestion that he is more American than British.

Webb was spot-on when she recorded: “Talked exclusively about himself and his electioneering plans – wanted me to tell him of someone who would get up statistics for him. ‘I never do any brainwork that anyone else can do for me.’”

Churchill’s “I never do anything …” comment is the sort of thing he said all his life.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about some friends and colleagues Webb and Churchill had in common. I think it will be a fascinating post.