Clementine Churchill as Literary Critic
Q: Clementine as Editor
Your book Churchill By Himself is a treasure to which I frequently refer. I am a retired professor who recently lost his wife. I am preparing a memorial to her and found Churchill’s words as quoted in Andrew Roberts’ recent biography to be perfect. The sense of his words is that his wife Clementine was was a frequent, strong and fair critic of his writings, always helpful. I know that is not much to go on but I would appreciate corroborating information. —M.S., via email
A: “Here firm, though all be drifting”
I will have to ponder your question, because his remarks about Lady Churchill are mainly tributes to her as wife, friend and advisor, not literary critic–although of course she was that too. I don’t think she vetted many of his books. An exception perhaps is The World Crisis, which she experienced personally, often painfully. “Here firm,” he often said of her in those harder days, “though all be drifting.”
Her counsel was more frequently sought over his speeches, but was sometimes rejected. In 1945, for example, she warned him not to say the Labour Party would have to rely on “some form of Gestapo” to enforce their programs if they were elected. Aside from the injudicious comparison, voters had a hard time seeing Clement Attlee, the mild-mannered Labour leader, as a stormtrooper. (I can’t resist a note: In the 1980s a London friend, lifetime Labour voter, said the activities of certain London Labour councils “indeed remind me of the Gestapo.” Whoops!)
“…shaking her beautiful head [over] some new and pregnant point I am developing…”
There are probably many instances where she closely influenced his compositions. We must look out for them. (I am compiling a new, extended and revised edition of Churchill by Himself.) Her role as critic was noted by many beside her husband. One such was Lady Diana Cooper, quoting WSC in on page 512 of my book. I will elaborate on that by supplying some of the surrounding words:
Calm she also had, with a well-balanced judgment of people and situations—consistent and reliable. She often knew the sheep from the goats better than Winston did. “Clemmie sits behind me on the platform, shaking her beautiful head in disagreement with some new and pregnant point I am developing,” I remember his saying, with pride in her stable Liberalism, after some Tory meeting. Her devotion never subjected her to becoming a doormat or to taking the easier way with her high-powered Hercules.
Lady Diana’s tribute to CSC is beautiful. You can read it in a few minutes, and you should. Her son, Lord Norwich, did not know it existed until we wrote him for reprint permission. The full text (elaborated somewhat with excerpts from her other writings) is on the Hillsdale College Churchill Project website.
“Warm summer sun, Shine kindly here…”
I will keep your request in mind and add anything I find to this page. Baroness Spencer-Churchill died on 12 December 1977, outliving her husband by over a dozen years. After cremation, her ashes were placed in Churchill’s grave at Bladon at a private family service on 16th December.
My sympathies on your loss. I cannot imagine that myself, and always hope I shall go first. This was Churchill’s luck. It is, I realize, selfish. On wifely tributes, my favorite, from Mark Twain to his wife Livvy, also applies to to Clementine:
Warm summer sun,
Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.