I came across a saying by Churchill on the lines of: “There are 13 million feathers on a dragonfly’s wing yet it is but a mouthful for a bird.” He was saying that only in humans does one finds sentimentality, sadness or compassion for dreadful things that happen. —R.H.
I searched for “dragonfly’s wing” and nothing came up. I tried “million feathers” and sure enough! Great quote. Sorry I missed it in Churchill by Himself, but it will be in the sequel, The Definitive Wit of Winston Churchill.
On 10 January 1898 Winston wrote to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, from Bangalore, India, where he was stationed, imploring her to help him join the Sudan Campaign as a war correspondent. He had been hoping to do likewise with the Tirah Expedition on the Indian frontier, but that war fizzled to a rapid end. Lady Randolph did help him get to Sudan later the same year.
Reference is Randolph Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume I, Part 2, 1896-1900 (London: Heinemann, 1967), 856. Churchill wrote:
Oh how I wish I could work you up over Egypt! I know you could do it with all your influence and all the people you know. It is a pushing age and we must shove with the best. After Tirah and Egypt then I think I shall turn from war to peace and politics. If that is I get through all right. I think myself I shall, but of course one only has to look at Nature and see how very little store she sets by life. Its sanctity is entirely a human idea. You may think of a beautiful butterfly 12 million feathers on his wings, 16,000 lenses in his eye a mouthful for a bird. Let us laugh at Fate. It might please her.
Churchill was a keen butterfly collector in India, but in later life couldn’t bear to kill them or even keep them captive in his chrysalis house at Chartwell. This is indeed a memorable remark about life and fate.