Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Churchill Series – Sept. 23, 2008

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

In July 1903 the social reformer Beatrice Webb met the then twenty-eight year old Winston Churchill at a London dinner party. He was then sitting in his first Parliament, had published two books and seemed to Webb quite full of himself.

Churchill’s official biographer Sir Martin Gilbert tells us Webb recorded in her diary

First impression: restless, almost intolerably so, without capacity for sustained and unexcited labour, 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.

Talked exclusively about himself and his electioneering plans, wanted me to tell him of someone who would get statistics for him. “I never do any brainwork that anyone else can do for me,” – an axion which shows organizing but not thinking capacity.

Replete with dodges for winning Oldham against the Labour and Liberal candidates. But I dare say he has a better side, which the ordinary cheap cynicism of his position and career covers up to a casual dinner acquaintance.

Bound to be unpopular, too unpleasant a flavor with his restless self-regarding personality and lack of moral or intellectual refinement. …
Webb’s diary entry is quoted on pgs. 118-119 of Gilbert’s In Search of Churchill: A Historian’s Journey (John Wiley & Sons, 1994).

Most descriptions I’ve read of Churchill during the first years of the twentieth century note some of the same characteristics Webb noted: too talkative (and almost always about himself) comes up in almost every description.

Webb’s assessment is most interesting for her seeing beyond his political side with its “dodges for winning Oldham” to what she dared to say, at least in her diary, was a possible “better side.”

That he surely had.