(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
In July, 1888, as thirteen year old Winston Churchill was ending his first term at Harrow, his housemaster, H. O. D. Davidson, wrote a report letter to Winston’s mother. Davidson said Winston was not:
in any way willfully troublesome; but his forgetfulness, carelessness, unpunctuality, and irregularity in every way, have really been so serious, that I write to ask you, when he is at home, to speak very gravely to him on the subject.
When a boy first comes to a public school, one always expects a certain amount of helplessness, owing to being left to himself so much more in regard to preparation of work &c. But a week or two is generally enough for a boy to get used to the ways of the place.
Winston, I am sorry to say, has, if anything, got worse as the term passed. Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers and various other things into which I need not enter – he is so regular in his irregularity that I really don’t know what to do; and sometimes think he cannot help it.
But if he is unable to conquer this slovenliness (for I think all the complaints I have to make of him can be grouped under this head, though it takes various forms), he will never make a success of a public school. …
As far as ability goes he ought to be at the top of his form, whereas he is at the bottom. …
I have written very plainly to you, as I do think it very serious that he should have acquired such phenomenal slovenliness. …
I tip my hat to Housemaster Davidson for seeing past the problematic behavior and recognizing Churchill’s inherent ability: “he ought to be at the top of his form.”
During Churchill’s childhood and youth, many people wrote him off as a dullard, the most important of them being his father, Lord Randolph.
Were you thinking as you read the letter “Today, a teacher would be telling Jennie Churchill: ‘I think Winston may be ADHD or LD. You ought to have him evaluated. We’re probably expecting too much of him?’”
Ted Morgan, Churchill: Young Man in a Hurry, 1874-1915. (p.45)