(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
It was on June 26, 1897, a beautiful English summer day, that a twenty-one year old Army subaltern, Winston Churchill, made his first public speech in Bath.
He delivered it in a tent at a holiday fair sponsored by a conservative group, The Primrose League, which Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph, had helped found.
We’re told the speech was well received; and perhaps some day we can talk about what Churchill said.
But right now, let’s give Churchill a chance to tell us something about the setting and introduction he received.
Churchill was in his fifties when he recalled the events with gently mocking humor and a wink to us, who he knew understood that by age twenty-one, he was already familiar with the fluff and foam of politics and eager to swim in its waters:
[When] a bell began to ring, we repaired to our tent and mounted the platform [and] as soon as about a hundred persons had rather reluctantly [gathered] the Chairman rose and in a brief speech introduced me to the audience.I bet we’re all smiling.
At Sandhurst and in the Army compliments are few and far between, and flattery of subalterns does not exist.
If you won the Victoria Cross or the Grand National Steeplechase or the Army Heavyweight Boxing Championship, you would only expect to receive from your friends warnings against having your head turned by your good luck
In politics it was apparently quite different. Here the butter was laid on with a trowel. …
As [regards] my adventures in Cuba, on the Indian frontier and up the Nile, I could only pray the regiment would never hear of what the Chairman said. When he descanted upon my “bravery with the sword and brilliancy with the pen” I feared that the audience would cry out “Oh, rats!” or something similar.
I was astonished and relieved to find that they lapped it all up as if it were gospel.
BTW - Descanted is new to me. An online dictionary says: 1) An ornamental melody or counterpoint sung or played above a theme. 2) A discussion or discourse on a theme.
Background from Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life. (pgs. 71-2,77)
Churchill's "recollection" is found on pg. 203 of My Early Life.