Churchillian Fiction Continues to Roll off the Presses

Churchillian Fiction Continues to Roll off the Presses

Churchill quotes in the realm of fic­tion are a well-known fea­ture of the pop­u­lar cul­ture. So good an apho­rist was Churchill that even posthu­mous­ly, he con­tin­ues to “man­u­fac­ture” quote fic­tion. Some­times it’s the work of an obscure fig­ure, pinned on Churchill to make it more inter­est­ing.

The schol­ar Man­fred Wei­d­horn has an expla­na­tion for what we call Churchillian (or Yogi Berra) Drift: “You do not find your­self the tar­get of Churchillian Drift unless, like Churchill, you are already a fine apho­rist. Part of the rea­son it’s so easy to mis­at­tribute bril­liant say­ings to great apho­rists is that they have already coined so many bril­liant say­ings them­selves.”

The Ama­zon link for the above title is not pro­vid­ed. That’s because I don’t rec­om­mend you buy this book, which I strong­ly sus­pect is full of fic­tion. Ah, you say, so instead you’re plug­ging your own quote books? Au con­traire…

Non – fiction Recommendations

For­get me and look around for two fine quo­ta­tion books—oldies but good­ies. Each was com­piled by some­one who knew Churchill inti­mate­ly. Sir Col­in Coote’s Max­ims and Reflec­tions of the Rt Hon Win­ston S. Churchill was first pub­lished in 1947 and saw many print­ings. Kay Halle’s Irre­press­ible Churchill (1966) has had sev­er­al edi­tions as late as 2011.

Nei­ther book is 100% per­fect (nor are mine). But they are high­ly reli­able.  (Be sure to search Book­find­er for first edi­tons and used copies oth­er than Amazon’s.)

The book dis­played above bedi­zens its cov­er with five alleged quo­ta­tions. Not one is a true Win­ston Churchill quote. This must be a world record or sorts. Of course, it’s in the Bush League com­pared to A-Z Quotes, an Inter­net-based cor­nu­copia of fic­tion.

“Interrupting”

Just for the sake of pedantry, the “Inter­rupt­ing” quote on the book cov­er comes close, and a lenient teacher might allow it a “D.” What Churchill actu­al­ly said was to his son: “Ran­dolph, do not inter­rupt me while I’m inter­rupt­ing!”  (Cir­ca 1930s, at the Chartwell din­ner or lun­cheon. See Mar­tin Gilbert, Win­ston Churchill: The Wilder­ness Years, 13.)

On inter­rupt­ing, he also offered self-crit­i­cism: “All the years that I have been in the House I have always said to myself one thing: ‘Do not inter­rupt,’ and I have nev­er been able to keep to that res­o­lu­tion.” (Hansard, Par­lia­men­tary Debates, House of Com­mons, 10 July 1935,)

As you can see, attri­bu­tion is the key to get­ting quotes right. Nev­er trust any Churchill quip that is not accom­pa­nied by a note to a reli­able source.

“Courage”

The oth­er WSC quotes on the cov­er above are pure fic­tion. Churchill did voice the “Courage” quote, but the cov­er leaves out his acknowl­edge­ment of a pri­or author. What he actu­al­ly said was: “Courage is right­ly esteemed the first of human qual­i­ties because, as has been said, it is the qual­i­ty which guar­an­tees all oth­ers.” (“Alfon­so the Unlucky,” Strand Mag­a­zine, July 1931, reprint­ed in Great Con­tem­po­raries. Empha­sis mine.)

In refer­ring to an ear­li­er author Churchill was per­haps think­ing of Dr. Samuel John­son.  “Sir, you know courage is reck­oned the great­est of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no secu­ri­ty for pre­serv­ing any oth­er.” If so, Churchill’s edit­ing improved on John­son.

Fiction Compiled

As a pub­lic ser­vice, I pro­vide on this web­site a mul­ti-part com­pi­la­tion of every fake Churchill quote I have read or been noti­fied about. To the orig­i­nal “Red Her­rings” appen­dix in Churchill by Him­self, this list includes every new fic­tion encoun­tered since. I have now com­piled close to 150. There is no short­age of mate­r­i­al. It keeps me off the streets.

One thought on “Churchillian Fiction Continues to Roll off the Presses

  1. You write: “In refer­ring to an ear­li­er author Churchill was per­haps think­ing of Dr. Samuel John­son. ‘Sir, you know courage is reck­oned the great­est of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no secu­ri­ty for pre­serv­ing any oth­er.'” We can see the ances­try of this idea in Cicero as well and oth­er authors but Churchill’s is clos­est to John­son and yes, his para­phrase pol­ish­es and improves upon the orig­i­nal idea. That is an aspect of Churchill’s lit­er­ary tal­ent. He under­stood the idea and com­mu­ni­cat­ed it in a eupho­nious and often orig­i­nal way.

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