Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Churchill Series – Oct. 24, 2007

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

On November 5, 1940 Americans were going to the polls to decide whether to re-elect President Franklin D. Roosevelt for an unprecedented third term.

In London that same day Harold Nicolson, a Member of Parliament, attended a House session during which Churchill spoke. Here’s Nicolson’s diary entry for the day as found in Diaries and Letters (Vol. II), Nigel Nicolson, editor. (Atheneum, 1967):

The Prime Minister makes a statement after Question-time. He is rather grim. He brings home to the House as never before the gravity of our shipping losses and the danger of our position in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It has a good effect. By putting the grim side foremost he impresses us with his ability to face the worst. He rubs the palms of his hands with five fingers extended up and down the front of his coat, searching for the right phrase, indicating cautious selection, conveying almost medicinal poise.

If Chamberlain had spoken glum words such as these the impression would have been one of despair and lack of confidence. Churchill can say them and we all feel, “Thank God that we have a man like that!” I have never admired him more.

Thereafter he slouches into the smoking –room and reads the Evening News intently, as if it were the only source of information available to him.
When you read the phrase “medicinal poise,” did you think I’d made a transcription error, and that the actual phrase Nicolson used was “medical poise?”

I wish I was more familiar with commentary on Nicolson’s diaries.

Does anyone know whether “medicinal poise,” which seems an odd phrase to me and I’m sure many of you, was what Nicolson actually meant and wrote?

On a more important matter, we can be sure that on November 6 when Churchill read cables and newspapers describing Roosevelt’s victory, he was relieved and delighted.


Ken said...

I think it is intentionally medicinal. The poise that acts as a medicine for the painful news delivered.