Friday, August 03, 2007

The Churchill Series – Aug. 3, 2007

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

Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, recounts how his decision to make the best of a “massive downpour” led to a remarkable discovery:

[In 1965,] on a cold January afternoon, I entered the New York Public Library in search of letters written by Winston Churchill to an American friend, Bourke Cockran.

I knew from Churchill's archive that he had been in correspondence with Cockran since their first meeting in New York in 1895, when Churchill was nineteen. I also knew that Cockran's private papers were deposited in the New York Public Library.

Approaching the archive desk, I asked if they had any letters in the Bourke Cockran collection from the British statesman Winston Churchill. After a short while the archival assistant returned to say that they did not.

They did, however, have quite a number from Churchill's American namesake, the novelist Winston Churchill, a popular writer at the end of the nineteenth century. The novelist being of no interest to me, I left the library and found myself in a massive downpour. I had no umbrella and dared not risk a soaking.

Returning to the archive desk I asked - since I would not be able to leave the library until the rain had stopped - if I might read the novelist Winston Churchill's letters. With pleasure, I was told, and the archival assistant hurried away. She returned with a box full of letters.

As I looked at the first letter I was astonished. It was obviously from the British Winston Churchill, as were all the other letters in the box.

At the time of cataloguing, the library had not imagined that Bourke Cockran, a little-remembered American politician and three-term Congressman, would have had any connection at all with a young Englishman, a lieutenant in the British army in 1895.

It was my finest discovery - thus far!
A wonderful story. You'll find it here (scroll down to Personal Anecdote ).

And I loved the optimism in Gilbert's words: "my finest discovery - thus far!"

I hope you all have a very nice weekend.