(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
Churchill's father, Lord Randolph, treated him very harshly. For his part, Churchill did all he could to please his father, the hero of his youth whom he revered all his life.
Below are portions of two letters the father and son exchanged. They illustrate what I'm saying.
At the time Churchill was 19 and a cadet at Sandhurst. Lord Randolph had given him a gold watch; and later learned from the watchmaker, Mr. Dent, that it had twice been damaged while in Churchill's care. That prompted Lord Randolph's letter. The "Jack" Lord Randolph mentions is his son and Winston's younger brother by about five years.
21 April 1894Winston replied the next day. His letter includes lengthy explanations of the circumstances in which the watch was damaged and what he did to set matters right. Here's what he told Lord Randolph about dropping the watch "in the water."
(Mr. Dent) told me (you had) with the utmost carelessness dropped it on a stone pavement & broken it badly.
(After repairs) Dent again received the watch and you told him it had been dropped in the water. He told me the whole of the works were horribly rusty.
I would not believe you would be such a young stupid. It is clear you are not to be trusted with a valuable watch & when I get it back from Mr. Dent I shall not give it back to you. ...
Jack has had the watch I gave him longer that you have had yours; the only expenses I have paid on his watch was 10/s for cleaning before he went back to Harrow.
(In) all qualities of steadiness taking care of his things & never doing stupid things Jack is vastly your superior.
Your very much worried parent,
Randolph S. Churchill
I placed the watch ...in my breast pocket - not having with uniform a waistcoat to put it in - and while walking along the Wish Stream I stooped down to puck up a stick and it fell out of my pocket into the only deep place for miles.Nothing Churchill did impressed Lord Randolph. To the end of his life he predicted his oldest son would be a failure and an embarrassment to the family name.
The stream was only about 5 inches deep - but the watch fell into a pool nearly 6 feet deep.
I at once took off my clothes and I dived for it but the bottom was so uneven and the water so cold that I could not stay in longer than 10 minutes and had to give it up.
The next day I had the pool dredged - but without result. On Tuesday therefore I obtained permission from the Governor to do anything I could provided I paid for having it all put straight again.
I then borrowed 23 men from the Infantry Detachment - dug a new course for the stream - obtained the fire engine and pumped the pool dry and so recovered the watch.
I tell you all this to show you that I appreciated fully the value of the watch and that I did not treat the accident in a casual way. The labour of the men cost me over (three pounds). ...
I am sorry to have written you such a long and stupid letter, but I do hope you will take it in some measure as an explanation.
With best love
I remain ever your loving son
Winston S. Churchill
Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill: Youth. (pgs. 209-213)