An Artist's Churchill

An Artist's Churchill
AP Photo, File

In his massive new biography of Winston Churchill, Andrew Roberts recounts how Major-General Sir James Edmonds, editor of the government's official war history, helped Churchill compose The World Crisis, his history of the Great War, by supplying him with pertinent maps and documents, after which Churchill, striding up and down his study at Chartwell, his country house overlooking the Weald of Kent, would dictate his account of events to his secretary. For Edmonds, the experience was unforgettable.

I heard what seemed to be a spirit voice whispering to him, but the whispers were his own; he murmured each sentence over to see how it sounded before he dictated it. He took infinite pains to polish up his prose; after two or three typewritten versions, he would have four or five galley-proofs—an expensive business for his publishers . . . He has the soul of an artist.   
As to Churchill's artistry, Evelyn Waugh had his doubts. While appreciative of Churchill's desire to have his histories embody a certain “magnificence,” he also thought that his “historical writings . . . though highly creditable for a man with so much else to occupy him, do not really survive close attention.” Why? “He can seldom offer the keen, unmistakable aesthetic pleasure of the genuine artist.” T.S. Eliot was less unfavorable, convinced that Churchill's “historical style possesses beauties that the charm of no other personality than his could give.” Moreover, he was “honester than Macaulay.” However, Eliot also saw how oratory colored Churchill's writings, especially his biography of his ancestor, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough.

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