This post falls under the title “pedantry.” As I said when Politifact asked: Who cares? Many fake Churchill quotes like Governor DeSantis’ are honorable things for anyone to have said, and Churchill said many things like them. We like to keep the record straight, and we will keep doing the job of verifying. But these are not big questions, of which there are plenty. So if pedantry is not your thing, go on to another post. RML
On January 22nd Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dropped out of the interminable American presidential primary campaign. Unfortunately, he did so with a quotation incorrectly credited to Sir Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
That is heard as often as the other success misquote: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” Yet the sentiments are honorable, whether Churchill said them or not. He did say, for example: “success cannot be guaranteed. There are no safe battles.” (The Second World War IV, 277—thanks for this, Cdr. Larry Kryske.)
The Governor’s line was, however, somewhat inappropriate. If what really counts is “the courage to continue,” DeSantis was saying he lacked the courage. Yet he is demonstrably courageous. So the Churchill quote he wanted was: “…never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.” (And that one is genuine.)
Immediately, a score of news outlets crowed that DeSantis had misquoted Churchill. It is encouraging that the half-lifetime some of us have spent correcting fake Churchill quotes has its effect. I suspect, however, that the kerfuffle had more to do with piling on the Governor than advancing truth about Churchill.
The cacophony was accompanied by the usual media misinformation. One of the Churchill societies solemnly informed reporters that they had surveyed 50 million words by and about Churchill to prove the line was phony. (That was true in 2013, when I wrote it, but they need to get up to date. Our scans for the Hillsdale College Churchill Project now cover 80 million words.)
Rapidly, Google Alerts for “Winston Churchill” piled up in my in-box. Most of the stories just copied from each other, as usual. But Kenneth Silber’s piece in SpliceToday was original, accurate and balanced, and I thanked him for it. Among other things, Silber credits the admirable QuoteInvestigator.com for tracking the “success” line back to a 1938 Budweiser beer ad. And before that to a 19th century whaler named George Fred Tilton! “Success is not final” has also been ascribed without attribution to Abraham Lincoln.
Churchill’s phony success quotes pop up by the dozens on the web, and even in some poorly researched quote books. But they cannot be found in his 80-million-word canon. Hillsdale’s digital scans include all of his published books, articles, speeches and papers; and words about him by family or colleagues. Moreover, based on editing 5000 quotes in the next edition of my book, Churchill By Himself, I don’t believe it even sounds like him. For what he really said about success—and courage—see links below.
My colleague Bill Schaub reminds me that—unfortunately—“success is not final” etc. is also the very last line you see in the generally exemplary Gary Oldman film Darkest Hour. Bill found a video of the last six minutes on YouTube.
“Governor DeSantis, who I understand is a genuine Churchillian, perhaps relied too much on his memory or was a victim of poor staffwork,” Bill writes. That is so, but thanks for reminding me of Gary Oldman’s stellar performance. It still sends shivers through the spine.