Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Churchill Series - Nov. 13, 2008

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

We often read about the academic learning and performance problems Churchill had during his school days. That was certainly the case where mathematics was concerned. He twice failed the entrance exam for Sandhurst largely because of his very poor performance on the math portion of the test. He later said he only passed on his third try because his father hired England’s best math “crammer” who crammed just enough math into Churchill’s head to enable him to pass the entrance test on his third try.

But reading was another matter. In that Churchill excelled from his early school years onward.

While he appears at about age five to have had some more than typical letter and sound recognition difficulties, he quickly overcame them. By age nine he was an avid and extremely able reader who read R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island for pleasure.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Treasure Island:

Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow--a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white.

I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and
then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste and still looking about him at the cliffs and up at our signboard.
Age nine is about the average age of a Fourth Grade student in America today.

Well, there's the post. I need add nothing except a thanks to the Gutenberg Project where I obtained the Treasure Island paragraphs.