Great Churchillians: Antoine Capet

Great Churchillians: Antoine Capet

This memo­r­i­al was first pub­lished by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal, and a list of books and arti­cles by Antoine Capet, please click here.

Dear Antoine

The last of our 800 emails since 2012 arrived May 13th, a stab in the heart: “I am very poor­ly, I have devel­oped a severe form of can­cer of the blood. I spent most of the last four weeks in hospital—out today after an oper­a­tion to remove liq­uid from around my lungs. I am extreme­ly weak and can­not make any plans for the future.”

A bright star in the Churchill fir­ma­ment van­ished on June 2nd. Our col­league Dave Tur­rell speaks for us all: “One of the nicest, kind­est men I ever met.” Paul Rafferty’s fine book on Churchill’s Riv­iera paint­ings was trans­lat­ed by Antoine: “He was a joy to work with,” Paul wrote. “He was pre­cise, knowl­edge­able, ques­tioned every­thing, and got it ‘right.’ My French edi­tion has few to zero errors to my knowl­edge, and this is down to Antoine.”

To those Mar­tin Gilbert called “toil­ers in the Churchill vine­yard,” Antoine Capet was known through 2014 as Pro­fes­sor of British Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rouen. He ran num­ber­less lec­tures, sem­i­nars and pro­ceed­ings. He wrote eru­dite book reviews, and pub­lished in Cer­cles, Revue pluridis­ci­plinaire du monde anglo­phone.

For the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, Antoine Capet pro­duced a score of arti­cles, abstracts and book reviews, exhaus­tive­ly researched and pin­point-accu­rate. Refus­ing hon­o­raria, he request­ed copies of The Churchill Doc­u­ments as they were pub­lished. He soon had them all, but waved away fur­ther rewards. To Antoine, fer­ret­ing out the truth was reward enough. When I asked if he’d seen the exquis­ite Mona­co a la voile latine edi­tion of Savro­la, he acquired a copy, and then anoth­er, and anoth­er. He was soon an expert on this beau­ti­ful lim­it­ed edi­tion, and wrote an informed arti­cle about its variations.

Joie de vivre

If you want to know about wine, ask a French­man. Antoine knew wine as well as he knew Churchill, and advised me with his usu­al pre­ci­sion about what to buy and avoid. “Skip those fan­cy châteaux on the 1855 Bor­deaux clas­si­fi­ca­tion,” he urged. “Cru Bour­geois boasts exquis­ite but lit­tle known châteaux that are equal­ly good and a fifth the price.” When I felt adven­ture­some, he sent me to the Haut-Pyrénées: “Now, from the Madi­ran area, you might like to look Château d’Aydie. But beware: the Odé d’Aydie is their ‘sec­ond wine.’ One must insist on Château d’Aydie. I only dis­cov­ered it recent­ly, seduced by the val­ue for mon­ey.” I promise, you can take his advice to the bank.

Antoine’s Eng­lish was as flaw­less as his French. I admired his unim­peach­able com­mand of two lan­guages, a skill denied me. Only a few weeks ago, we joked about a U.S. news­pa­per giv­ing the French spelling of “Putin” as “Putain.” This is a deroga­to­ry term in French. Antoine quipped: “I can only con­tribute by indi­cat­ing that in French, Putin becomes ‘Pou­tine’ (like Lénine and Staline). So no con­fu­sion is pos­si­ble!” He laughed when I told him Que­bec has renamed “pou­tine,” its nation­al dish. To avoid con­no­ta­tions with Mr. Putin, it is now called “pommes frites and gravy.”

On a more seri­ous lev­el Antoine brought his qual­i­ty of cheery pedantry to every sub­ject under the sun, and we will vast­ly miss his skill­ful advice, always deliv­ered in the politest terms with­out the slight­est hint of rebuke. Com­bined with his com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge of the Churchill saga, those are rare qual­i­ties. We miss him already, for he has left an unfil­l­able hole among the friends who loved him.

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