A Short Review of “Churchill By Himself”

by R. Emmett Tyrrell in The American Spectator, 2009

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. His most recent book is The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President’s Life After The White House.

You may also be interested in a detailed review by Manfred Weidhorn.

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In the Twentieth Century, Winston Churchill was so widely noted for his wit and turn of phrase that if a clever line were in the air it was often attributed to him whether he said it or not. Doubtless the great man rarely complained, though occasionally he did as readers will note in this definitive compilation of his solemnities, witticisms, and other famous lines. For instance, though he never characterized the British naval tradition as embracing “Rum, buggery and the lash,” he told his secretary that he wished he had. And he never joked that if married to Nancy Astor and given the opportunity to drink her poisoned coffee he would willingly drink it.

In Churchill By Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations editor Richard Langworth has with utmost scholarliness, gathered 628 pages of Churchill’s most memorable lines from his 15 million published words. Langworth’s scholarship is fascinating. In the case of some of Churchill’s most famous lines Langworth traces their origins in earlier oratory (Cicero) or poetry (John Donne). He files the lines under interesting headings, for instance: “Maxims,” “Nuclear Age and Cold War,” and “Ripostes.”

Yet his most memorable section, at least for me, is titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions.” There on page 572 the indefatigable editor casts doubt on The American Spectator’s authority for claiming without attribution that Churchill once said “Smoking cigars is like falling in love; first you are attracted to the shape; you stay for its flavor; and you must always remember, never, never let the flame go out.” Okay, at ease my fellow Spectatorians! I ferreted out the source and have sent it on to Langworth. Our honor is preserved. On October 15, 1963 at a Conservative Party Conference at Blackpool Randolph, while smoking a cigar, related his father’s line to my source, who must remain anonymous, for he explained: “Admittedly, he [Randolph] was drunk at the time.” [RML: I have still not accepted it; the source, a spurious quote book which offers no direct attribution, is strictly hearsay!]

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