The Biblical Churchill (1): His Largest Single Source of Quotations

The Biblical Churchill (1): His Largest Single Source of Quotations

N.B.”The Bib­li­cal Churchill” was the orig­i­nal Appen­dix IV in my book Churchill By Him­self. It was delet­ed in the lat­er edi­tion, Churchill in His Own Words, to make room for an index of phrases.

Churchill’s Biblical storehouse

“In my Father’s house are many man­sions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to pre­pare a place for you.” —St. John 14:2 [1]

We have often said of our own British Empire: “In my Father’s house there are many man­sions.” So in this far greater world struc­ture, which we shall sure­ly raise out of the ruins of des­o­lat­ing war, there will be room for all gen­er­ous, free asso­ci­a­tions of a spe­cial char­ac­ter, so long as they are not dis­loy­al to the world cause nor seek to bar the for­ward march of mankind. —WSC, House of Com­mons, 21 April 1944

* * * *

“Arm your­selves, and be valiant men, and see that ye be in readi­ness against the morning…For it is bet­ter for us to die in bat­tle, than to behold the calami­ties of our peo­ple and our sanc­tu­ary. Nev­er­the­less, as the will of God is in heav­en, so let him do.” —I Mac­cabees 3:58-60 [2]

Cen­turies ago words were writ­ten to be a call and a spur to the faith­ful ser­vants of Truth and Jus­tice: Arm your­selves, and be ye men of val­our, and be in readi­ness for the con­flict; for it is bet­ter for us to per­ish in bat­tle than to look upon the out­rage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heav­en, even so let it be. —WSC, Broad­cast, 19 May 1940

Frequent Biblical allusions

“More than to any oth­er book or group of books, Churchill alludes to the King James Bible,” wrote Dar­rell Hol­ley in Churchill’s Lit­er­ary Allusions:

It is for him the pri­ma­ry source of inter­est­ing illus­tra­tions, descrip­tive images, and stir­ring phras­es. His knowl­edge of the Bible man­i­fests itself in direct quo­ta­tions, in para­phrased retellings of Bib­li­cal sto­ries, and in his fre­quent, per­haps even uncon­scious, use of Bib­li­cal terms and phras­es. The Tow­er of Babel, Belshazzar’s feast…the mill­stone around the neck, the “great gulf fixed” between Par­adise and Hell [from Luke 16:26] the last great Bat­tle of Armageddon—these occur often in Churchill’s writing.”[3]

Yet Churchill was not a reli­gious man. Hav­ing read the lead­ing anti-reli­gious tracts of the late 19th cen­tu­ry, weigh­ing them against the Angli­can teach­ings of his boy­hood, he held a prag­mat­ic atti­tude toward spir­i­tu­al questions:

I adopt­ed quite ear­ly in life a sys­tem of believ­ing what I want­ed to believe, while at the same time leav­ing rea­son to pur­sue unfet­tered what­ev­er paths she was capa­ble of treading.Some of my cousins who had the great advan­tage of Uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion used to tease me with argu­ments to prove that noth­ing has any exis­tence except what we think of it. The whole cre­ation is but a dream; all phe­nom­e­na are imag­i­nary. You cre­ate your own uni­verse as you go along.[4]

What moved Churchill was the Bib­li­cal beau­ty of King James Eng­lish, bad­ly muti­lat­ed by “new revised” Bibles osten­si­bly designed to make them more “rel­e­vant.” He had an ear for the mem­o­rable phrase, and he nev­er hes­i­tat­ed to deploy Bib­li­cal allu­sions both famous and obscure. One of each is suf­fi­cient to demon­strate his expertise.

Con­tin­ued in Part 2.

Endnotes

1. Holy Bible, King James edi­tion. The same verse in Basic Eng­lish, which WSC cham­pi­oned as a lin­gua fran­ca, is: “In my Father’s house are rooms enough; if it was not so, would I have said that I am going to make ready a place for you?”

2. From the Apoc­rypha, King James Bible: “A group of books not found in Jew­ish or Protes­tant ver­sions of the Old Tes­ta­ment includ­ed in the Sep­tu­agint and in Roman Catholic edi­tions of the Bible.” —Ran­dom House Webster’s Col­lege Dictionary

3. Dar­rell Hol­ley, Churchill’s Lit­er­ary Allu­sions (Jef­fer­son, N.C.: McFar­land, 1987), 7.

4. Win­ston S. Churchill, My Ear­ly Life (Lon­don: Thorn­ton But­ter­worth, 1930), 131.

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