Introduction to “The Dream”: Churchill’s Haunting Short Story

Introduction to “The Dream”: Churchill’s Haunting Short Story

The Dream is repub­lished (from Nev­er Despair 1945-1965, Vol­ume 8 of the offi­cial biog­ra­phy) by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. To read it in its entire­ty, click here.

The Dream…

is the most mys­te­ri­ous and ethe­re­al sto­ry Win­ston Churchill ever wrote. Yet the more we know about him, the bet­ter we may under­stand how he came to write it.

Replete with broad-sweep Churchillian nar­ra­tive, The Dream con­tains many ref­er­ences to now-obscure peo­ple, places and things. The new online ver­sion pub­lished by Hills­dale pro­vides links to all of them. You need only click on any unfa­mil­iar name or term for links to online ref­er­ences. After read­ing the sto­ry, click here for a thought­ful appre­ci­a­tion by Katie Dav­en­port, a Churchill Fel­low at Hills­dale Col­lege.

Churchill wrote The Dream in 1947, a low point in his polit­i­cal career. Two years ear­li­er, British vot­ers had turned his Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty out of office. The for­mer Prime Min­is­ter was now a frus­trat­ed Leader of the Oppo­si­tion. But polit­i­cal revers­es often brought out the best in his writ­ing. Churchill’s great war mem­oir, The World Cri­sis, began appear­ing at a sim­i­lar low point, after he had lost his seat in Par­lia­ment in 1922-24. Marl­bor­ough, his noble biog­ra­phy, was writ­ten in the 1930s, as he griev­ed over the nation’s fail­ure to heed his warn­ings about Hitler.

Origins

The poignan­cy of The Dream is height­ened by the appear­ance of Winston’s father, Lord Ran­dolph Churchill. Dead in 1895 at the age of forty-six, Lord Ran­dolph had not lived to see, nor indeed ever imag­ined, his son at the pin­na­cle of their country’s affairs.

Lord Randolph’s own career had last­ed scarce­ly twen­ty years. Elect­ed to Par­lia­ment in 1874, he rose mete­or­i­cal­ly. By 1884 he was Leader of the House of Com­mons and Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer. But in 1886 he resigned over a triv­ial mat­ter, nev­er to rise again. Com­pared with Win­ston, Ran­dolph was a foot­note in British his­to­ry.

The boy Win­ston wor­shiped his father from afar, but nev­er con­quered Lord Randolph’s dis­dain. It was his life­long regret that his father did not live to see what he had achieved. It is part of the artistry of this tale that the inquis­i­tive young father of forty nev­er learns what his sev­enth-three-year-old son became.

The Dream was first men­tioned dur­ing a fam­i­ly din­ner at Chartwell, Churchill’s beloved home in the lush Ken­tish coun­try­side, twen­ty-five miles out­side Lon­don. He enti­tled the sto­ry “Pri­vate Arti­cle,” show­ing it only to his fam­i­ly, resist­ing their urg­ings that it be pub­lished. In his will he bequeathed the text to his wife, who donat­ed it to Churchill Col­lege, Cam­bridge. On the first anniver­sary of his funer­al, 30 Jan­u­ary 1966, it was pub­lished in The Sun­day Tele­graphThe Dream has also appeared as a stand-alone vol­ume in two pri­vate print­ings and a fine 2005 edi­tion by Lev­enger Press.

Reactions

Win­ston Churchill was a man of tran­scen­den­tal pow­ers. He could, it seems, peer beyond real­i­ty. Jon Meacham, author of the sem­i­nal Franklin and Win­ston, believes The Dream sheds light on Churchill’s abil­i­ty to put a bet­ter face on things than they real­ly were: to revere a father who over­looked him; to revere Roo­sevelt, who, in their lat­er encoun­ters, was less than forth­right.

Mar­garet Thatch­er, in my view the great­est British prime min­is­ter since Churchill, took a right and kind view of The Dream’s Vic­to­ri­an lurches—which are any­thing but polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect. In 1993 I pre­sent­ed her with a pri­vate print­ing. She thanked me in her own hand the next day. “I read it in the ear­ly hours of this morn­ing,” she wrote, “and am total­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by the imag­i­na­tion of the sto­ry and how much it reveals of Win­ston the man and the son.” Lat­er I asked what she thought of Churchill’s remark about women in the House of Com­mons: “They have found their lev­el.” Lady Thatch­er beamed: “I thought that very droll.”

While vague about the here­after, Churchill always held that “man is spir­it,” and believed in a kind of spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion with his fore­bears. On 24 Jan­u­ary 1953, he told his pri­vate sec­re­tary, John Colville, that he would die on that date—the same date his father had died in 1895. Twelve years lat­er Churchill lapsed into a coma on Jan­u­ary 10th. Con­fi­dent­ly, Colville assured The Queen’s pri­vate sec­re­tary: “He won’t die until the 24th.” Uncon­scious, Churchill did just that.

One ques­tion about The Dream that tan­ta­lized his fam­i­ly  is whether the sto­ry was real­ly fic­tion. When asked this ques­tion, Sir Win­ston Churchill would smile and say, “Not entire­ly.”

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