Mr. Winston Churchill
Talks of his Hopes, His Work, AND His Ideals
TO Bram Stoker
When I wrote to Mr. Winston Churchill asking for an appointment to interview him he replied: “I would very much rather not; but if you wish it I cannot refuse you.” When I met him in his library he explained more fully in words: “I hate being interviewed, and I have refused altogether to allow it. But I have to break the rule for you, for you were a friend of my father.” Then he added gracefully another reason personal to myself: “And because you are the author of Dracula.”
This latter was a vampire novel I wrote some years ago, which had appealed to his young imagination. He had himself been an imaginative writer. The first thing of his which I remember reading was a powerful short story called Man Overboard! An Episode of the Red Sea)—a grim, striking story wherein he followed the last thoughts of a drowning man.
As he had already written, some ten years ago, Savrola, a political novel, I asked him if he intended or wished to write others, in case, of course, he should have time to do so through the revolutions of the political wheel. He answered thoughtfully:
“No, I think not; not novels. I hope to write, and to write as much as public life will give me opportunity of doing. But I do not think it will be fiction.
“I would rather write something in the lighter forms of history—a sort of truthful storytelling. It seems to me that the whole tendency of modern historical research is to subdivide and prosecute investigation into each division or aspect of the matter separately. It is all done by sections. The result is not satisfactory. We used to have less details but a general picture, whereas now we get superabundant details but no general sketch, no picture or story. The work should neither be of too great length, nor should it be written for children. There is a growing opportunity for writers who will grip a subject as a whole and convey it intelligently to the plain man who wants to know but who hasn’t got much time. The popularity of Fitchett’s book of Deeds That Won the Empire illustrates what I mean.”
THE REVENGE OF TIME
£25. Twenty-five pounds sterling REWARD is offered by the Sub-Commission of the Fifth Division, on behalf of the Special Constable of the said division to anyone who brings the escaped prisoner of war, CHURCHILL, living or dead, to this office.
For the Sub-Commission of the Fifth Division.
LODK DE HAAS, Secretary.
The above, on poor paper in rough type, after the manner of hue-and-cry placards for runaway slaves in the bad times of slavery, was the notice which followed Winston Spencer Churchill’s escape from the prison at the Model School at Pretoria in December, 1899.
Seven years later the Transvaal was a British Colony, and the ex-prisoner, Winston Churchill, was Under-Secretary for the Colonies in the British Government; an Under-Secretary who manifestly had, and who was manifestly intended to have, an important share in the formation of the new constitution of the new British Colony. “Thus,” says Feste, the jester, “the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.”
I found Mr. Churchill in his study at his pretty house in Bolton Street, off Piccadilly. The Under-Secretary of the Colonies is a working man and a bachelor; the whole of the first floor, usually allotted domestically for a drawing-room, is here utilized as a study, two rooms having been thrown into one. The houses in this part of Bolton Street are not large, and in them every inch of space is generally arranged by clever architects to practical use. The colour tone of the room is rich green, relieved somewhat gloomily by the heavy mahogany panelling and the many bookcases of the same dark wood. Velvet pile carpet of green, green chairs and sofas.
The study table is a remarkable one. An immensely large and wide piece of Chippendale in mahogany with carved legs and bevelled edges richly carved; a table that seems as though it were made for the work of collating documents. Elsewhere in the double room are pretty pieces of Empire furniture of tulipwood.
The shelves are filled with a varied assortment of books, mostly deluxe editions, showing the catholic taste of the Churchill family, for very many of these editions have the bookplate of Lord Randolph Churchill. Here in addition to the heavier works of history, philosophy and those bearing on politics and public life, are fine editions handsomely bound of Edgar Allan Poe, Carlyle, Richardson, Jane Austen, Dean Milman, George Grote, the Brontes, etc.
Of course there are not here the accumulations of letters and papers; of Blue-books and files of documents which cumber up a statesman’s office. All such are in his rooms at the Colonial Office and the House of Commons. Though a Minister may—and does—do much of his work in his own home, the work of this class is selected, and only such papers and authorities as are required are brought to him.
MR. CHURCHILL AS A BOY
Over the fireplace in the outer room is set in the panel a fine portrait by Romney of an officer, Captain Peletan, in uniform. The windows are double framed so that the war of the elements and the roar of traffic in the neighbouring Piccadilly can be effectually kept out. On the wall of the inner room, set so as to face one, is a lifelike portrait of the Rt. Hon. Lord Randolph Churchill.
When I came to London to be Henry Irving’s manager, my acquaintance with Lord Randolph, made in Ireland, continued. Our relations were always most friendly. He often came to the Lyceum Theatre; he was a great admirer of Irving, and occasionally stayed for supper in the old Beefsteak Room.
One evening at the theatre—I think it was during the long run of Faust—when between the acts I was walking in the passage, I heard his voice behind me: “Oh, Bram Stoker, I want to introduce my boy to you.” I turned, and the introduction was made. Young Winston was then about thirteen, a strongly built boy with red hair and very red cheeks. A bright-looking boy, somewhat on the sturdy side, and eminently healthy. As we shook hands the father laid his hand affectionately on the boy’s shoulder and, patting it in a loving way, said: “He’s not much yet, you know. But he’s a good ‘un. He’s a good ‘un!” And a “good ‘un” he turned out to be.
The son has more than fulfilled the predictions of the father. He is at this moment in the very foremost rank of living British statesmen, his dashing, pugnacious methods allied to his great gifts as a speaker, his lucid power in handling public questions, and his remarkable breadth of view, distinguishing him above all his rivals.
“Why,” I asked him, purposely, did you leave the Army? You seem to have liked soldiering and to have got on very well with it.”
“I was very happy in the Army. I did like soldiering. But the fact is that in peacetime there is little if any scope in the Army for a man who wants to be active. Of course, I mean very active, and in different ways, for there is always plenty of routine work in military service. Anyhow, a man must choose his own way of life, and if it is only fighting that a man wants there is plenty of that in politics. It is only by following out one’s own bent that there can be the really harmonious life.”
“Won’t you define,” I asked, “what you mean exactly by that?” He smiled. I do not think that he cares much for definitions; he makes up his mind in his own way, a way to satisfy himself.
“Harmonious life. A life when a man’s work is also his pleasure and vice versa. That conjunction joined with a buoyant temperament, makes the best of worldly gifts.”
“Why buoyant temperament? I merely ask for information.”
“Simply because it implies a lot of other things: good health and strength, for instance. The great majority of human beings have to work the greater part of the day, and then amuse themselves afterwards— if they are not too tired. But the lucky few derive their keenest interest and enjoyment not from any contrast between business and idle hours—but from the work itself. Certainly physical health has a good deal to do with it. Henry James speaks of a religion of healthy usefulness.”
“I note, Mr. Churchill,” I said, “that you use the words politics and politician where I mean statesmanship and statesman. May I take it that I am in accord with your ideas?” There was a smile on his face as he answered:
“Don’t you think it would be at least unbecoming of a man to speak of himself as a statesman? Politics and politician seem to me to be very good and adequate words, quite equal to the purpose required of them. Politics are quite big enough, I assure you.”
“What, in your opinion is the modern tendency of politics?”
“All politics in this country, and I think all over the world, are becoming divided along social and economic lines of cleavage. The movements of the past have never so operated. The Reformation secured, directly and indirectly, freedom of conscience. The English revolt and rebellion of the 17th century established Parliamentary government. The French Revolution achieved a very considerable measure of political equality— the idea of a national nation—citizens not separated by class prejudice; but there yet remains the greatest of all the anomalies, the social and economic injustice. All politics are focusing on this.
“Perhaps it is for America to show the way. There is the naked issue between capital and labour. America’s contribution to the movement for human progress will be some solution, necessarily complicated, of the economic problems which confront scientific civilization.”
“DEEP EARNEST PURPOSE”
The smile was not existent at the end of this guess at the future. Instead, there was a look of concentrated gravity—of deep, earnest purpose, which showed something of the man within. Behind the face mask of boyhood there came something quite different—the something which revealed a passionate earnestness not to be suspected from his general appearance. The incipient wrinkles which only show occasionally on the smooth skin of his forehead seemed to deepen, the fine lines of the well-cut mouth to harden; the eyes to get a new and earnest look.
Winston Churchill is in his 34th year, with the record of four campaigns behind him and enough memories of personal adventurer to equip a Ballantyne or a Kingston. He has sat in Parliament for years and always as one of the most strenuous and daring of Members. He has borne officially the heat of the day in the new Parliament which came into the turmoil after a reign of twenty years by their political opponents. In the Commons he has been the official mouthpiece of his party and Cabinet in Colonial matters, and has held himself worthily against all odds. But in appearance he is still a boy. Let us see him as he leans against the mantelpiece in his study, gay and debonnaire.
Of medium height, he looks rather slimmer than he is, for he is compactly built. The red hair of his boyhood has lost some of its fire, and seems now rather a reddish brown than red. The eyes of light blue are large of pupil, having in them something of the free quality of the eyes of a bird. The mouth is an orator’s mouth: clear-cut, expressionable, and not small. The forehead is both broad and high, with a fairly deep vertical line above the nose; the chin strong and well formed. His hands are somewhat remarkable; a sort of index to his life as well as to his general character. They are distinctly strong hands. Broad in the palm, with that breadth which palmists take as showing honesty; fingers both long and fairly thick, but tapering; the thumb slightly bent backward at the top joint. The man with such a hand should go far.
When I asked him to enlighten me as to his change of party he smiled again, but differently this time, a somewhat inscrutable smile, old Wisdom looking out of the gleeful face of Boyhood. He will, I think, take perennial delight in all that led up to that change and in the doing of it. His words, together with the tone in which they were spoken and that enlightening something which is conveyed by appearance, expression and manner all in unison, seemed to satisfy one’s intellect.
“When I was in the Conservative Party, to which I had been brought up, I was called a Tory Democrat. Even then I belonged to the progressive wing of the party. I came into Parliament after the Boer War as a representative of the high-water mark of Tory Imperialism. But I was actually already in complete reaction against it. Indeed, when my change of party came there was not far to go. I went into politics on the Conservative side, just as a man might go to Oxford because his father had been there. My father was a Tory Democrat, and I had been brought up in that atmosphere.”
“What is Tory Democracy?”
“The association of us all through the leadership of the past—that was what I thought it meant. It was only later on that I learned that its aspirations were exploited by the vested interests of Conservatism, simply to win the votes and popularity of working men.”
As he spoke my mind went back to a passage of his speech before the National Liberal Federation in Manchester in 1904 which seemed to link his old political faith with his new:
“We are here to sweep away the whisperings of despair. We are not going back: we are going on. Our movements are toward better, fairer organization of society, and our faith is strong and high that the time shall surely come—and will come sooner for our efforts—when the dull, grey clouds under which millions of our countrymen are monotonously toiling will break and melt and vanish for ever in the sunshine of a new and noble age.”
Copyright, 1907, by the Press Publishing Company, New York World