Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Churchill Series - Mar. 19, 2008

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

In 1899, the twenty-four year old Winston Churchill, a war veteran, published author, and since boyhood a keen student of politics, visited Conservative Party headquarters in London.

If you’re telling yourself, “I’ll bet the meeting had something to do with Churchill wanting party support for a seat in Parliament,” you’re right.

At Churchill’s request, Fitz Roy Stewart, a distant relative and minor party functionary, had arranged for him to meet with party leaders.

Party Manager Middleton, nicknamed “The Skipper,” assured Churchill the party would find a suitable opportunity for him.

We know all this because in 1930 Churchill, then age fifty-five, tells us about it in My Early Life, his autobiography of his first twenty-seven years.

And we know something else about the visit because Churchill, with tongue-in-check and a wink to readers, tells us what happened as he was leaving party headquarters:

On the way out I had another talk with Fitz Roy Stewart. My eye lighted upon a large book on his table on the cover of which was a label bearing the inscription “SPEAKERS WANTED.”

I gazed upon this with wonder. Fancy that! Speakers were wanted and there was a bulky book of applications.

Now I had always wanted to make a speech; but I had never on any occasion great or small been invited or indeed allowed to do so. …

So I said to Fitz Roy Stewart, “Tell me about this. Do you mean to say there are a lot of meetings which want speakers?”

“Yes,” he replied; “the Skipper told me I was not to let you go without getting something out of you. Can’t I book you for one?”

I was deeply agitated. On the one hand I felt immense eagerness; on the other the keenest apprehension. However, in life’s steeplechase one must always jump the fences when they come.

Regaining such composure as I could and assuming an indifference contrary to my feelings, I replied that perhaps if all conditions were suitable and there was a real desire to hear me, I might be willing to accede to his request.

He opened the book.
One of the delights of reading My Early Life is coming upon passages in which Churchill poked fun at himself knowing his readers would smile along with him.
Winston S. Churchill, My Early Years. Eland, 2002 (pgs. 199-201)


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