Novelist and Statesman: The Two Winston Churchills

Novelist and Statesman: The Two Winston Churchills

Book­sellers spe­cial­iz­ing in Sir Win­ston S. Churchill are still fre­quent­ly offered books by Win­ston Churchill the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist. Their rela­tion­ship is worth a pass­ing glance.

Novelist Winston: early parallels

Win­ston Churchill the nov­el­ist in 1906. (Wiki­me­dia)

Win­ston Churchill was born in St. Louis, Mis­souri on 10 Novem­ber 1871 and edu­cat­ed in the city’s pub­lic schools (“pub­lic” in the Amer­i­can sense, “state schools” in the British sense). In 1894, a year before his Eng­lish coun­ter­part grad­u­at­ed from the Roy­al Mil­i­tary Col­lege (now Acad­e­my) at Sand­hurst, Churchill grad­u­at­ed from the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my at Annapo­lis. After the Naval Acad­e­my, he served briefly on the edi­to­r­i­al staff of the Army and Navy Jour­nal.  

In 1895, when Eng­lish Win­ston was pay­ing his first vis­it to the Unit­ed States, Amer­i­can Win­ston became man­ag­ing edi­tor of Cos­mopoli­tan mag­a­zine. Three decades lat­er, Eng­lish Win­ston would begin a lengthy series of arti­cles for the same journal.

First contacts

The two Churchills became aware of each oth­er in 1900 when books by the Eng­lish author began to appear along­side those of the already-well-estab­lished Amer­i­can. Indeed, so promi­nent was the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist at the time that Eng­lish Win­ston wrote him a polite let­ter promis­ing to use his mid­dle name “Spencer” to dis­tin­guish him­self from the far bet­ter-known Amer­i­can. The nov­el­ist replied that if he had a mid­dle name he would have been pleased to return the com­pli­ment. Although Eng­lish Win­ston soon dropped “Spencer,” he for­ev­er after used the byline “Win­ston S. Churchill.”

Lady Soames at the Bak­er Library, Dart­mouth, read­ing the orig­i­nal cor­re­spon­dence between he two Win­ston Churchills, with Bar­bara Lang­worth and man­u­scripts cura­tor Philip Cro­nen­wett, 1992. (Dart­mouth College)

The amus­ing cor­re­spon­dence between them (“Mr. Win­ston Churchill to Mr. Win­ston Churchill”) appears in Eng­lish Winston’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, My Ear­ly Life. In 1995, on one of her vis­its to us in New Hamp­shire, my wife and I took Lady Soames to the Bak­er Library at Dart­mouth, which hous­es nov­el­ist Churchill’s papers. There she was able to review her father’s orig­i­nal let­ters to his epony­mous fel­low writer.

Political connections…

In 1901, the nov­el­ist Churchill and war cor­re­spon­dent Churchill met in Boston dur­ing Eng­lish Winston’s lec­ture tour. Amer­i­can Win­ston threw a din­ner for him. Great cama­raderie pre­vailed and each of them promised there would be no more con­fu­sion. Alas, Eng­lish Win­ston got the din­ner bill and Amer­i­can Win­ston received Eng­lish winston’s mail.

In Boston the two Churchills strolled the bridge over the Charles Riv­er and Eng­lish Win­ston had an idea for his Amer­i­can friend. “Why don’t you go into pol­i­tics? I mean to be Prime Min­is­ter of Eng­land. It would be a great lark if you were Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States at the same time.” Sev­er­al years lat­er the nov­el­ist was elect­ed to the New Hamp­shire leg­is­la­ture. That was, alas, as far as he got, los­ing a cam­paign for reelec­tion in 1906.

Amer­i­can Win­ston was an ear­ly recruit of the famous artist and writer colony at Cor­nish, New Hamp­shire, an “aris­toc­ra­cy of brains” found­ed by Augus­tus Saint-Gau­dens in the 1890s. Among its dis­tin­guished cadre, Cor­nish count­ed illus­tra­tors Stephen and Max­field Par­rish, the gar­den design­er Charles A. Platt, and artists Keny­on Cox, Flo­rence Scov­el Shinn and Willard Met­calf. States­men, notably Theodore Roo­sevelt, were among its visitors.

Har­lak­enden House, Cor­nish, New Hamp­shire. Designed by Charles A. Platt and built in 1898 for nov­el­ist Win­ston Churchill, the estate was leased to Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son as a sum­mer White House in 1914. All but a ser­vice wing burned in 1923. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

…and divergences

The two Churchills were not polit­i­cal soul­mates. This is sug­gest­ed by Amer­i­can Winston’s close friend­ship with Theodore Roo­sevelt. In 1911, Amer­i­can Win­ston ran for Gov­er­nor of New Hamp­shire on the tick­et of TR’s Bull Moose Par­ty, but was not elect­ed. TR nursed a famous antipa­thy toward both Win­ston Churchill and his father.

I believe, but can­not prove, that Roosevelt’s influ­ence had some­thing to do with the two Churchills’ lack of con­tact as the 1900s wore on. When Amer­i­can Win­ston vis­it­ed Lon­don dur­ing World War I, to inter­view lead­ing states­men for his only non-fic­tion book, A Trav­eller in Wartime, he paid no call on Eng­lish Winston.

Continued confusion

On anoth­er of Lady Soames’s vis­its, we took her to the grand Mount Wash­ing­ton Hotel in Bret­ton Woods, New Hamp­shire. Before­hand I warned her: “The Mount Wash­ing­ton believes your father stayed there in 1906. Of course it was the ‘oth­er’ Win­ston Churchill, the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist. But don’t spoil their fun.” “Cer­tain­ly not,” she said primly.

No soon­er was she intro­duced to the man­ag­er than she piped up. “I under­stand you think my Papa was here in 1906. I’m sor­ry, dear, that is just not pos­si­ble. That was, you know, the Amer­i­can Churchill. I’m told he was run­ning for Con­gress at the time. I believe he lost.” (Then she looked at me and winked.)

Books by the novelist

Eng­lish Win­ston pub­lished only one nov­el, Savro­la. Amer­i­can Win­ston devot­ed almost his entire career to fic­tion. His books are still com­mon­ly found in dusty cor­ners of New Eng­land sec­ond­hand book­shops. His work is rich in the panoply of 19th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can his­to­ry and New Eng­land pol­i­tics. Titles include Richard Carvel, The Inside of the Cup, A Mod­ern Chron­i­cle, A Far Coun­try, The Cross­ing, The Title Mart, The Celebri­ty, Mr. Crewe’s Career, and a notable Civ­il War nov­el, The Cri­sis.

Amer­i­can Win­ston died in Flori­da on 12 March 1947, a few weeks after the death of Eng­lish Winston’s broth­er Jack. I have been unable to find, but would be delight­ed to know of, any­thing he had to say about Eng­lish Win­ston in the Sec­ond World War.

The Crisis

The two Churchills were alike in their appre­ci­a­tion for the hero­ism and sac­ri­fice of the Amer­i­can Civ­il War. In The Cri­sis, Churchill the nov­el­ist offers an epic tale of that war. He depicts the tragedy and the glo­ry it brought to Fed­er­als and Con­fed­er­ates alike. He explained some of his feel­ing about the book in an After­word, which reads in part:

The author has cho­sen St. Louis for the prin­ci­pal scene of this sto­ry for many rea­sons. Grant and Sher­man were liv­ing there before the Civ­il War, and Abra­ham Lin­coln was an unknown lawyer in the neigh­bor­ing state of Illi­nois. It has been one of the aims of this book to show the remark­able con­trasts in the lives of these great men who came out of the West….

St. Louis is the author’s birth­place, and his home—the home of those friends whom he has known from child­hood and who have always treat­ed him with unfal­ter­ing kind­ness. He begs they will believe him when he says that only such char­ac­ters as he loves are rem­i­nis­cent of those he has known there.

The Cri­sis was in print longer than any of Amer­i­can Winston’s oth­er books. It may have sur­vived so long because peo­ple ordered it mis­tak­ing it for Eng­lish Winston’s The World Cri­sis. As a his­tor­i­cal nov­el, it deserves to stand on its own among oth­er great works of its type. Amer­i­can Win­ston said his book spoke of a time

when feel­ing ran high. It has been nec­es­sary to put strong speech into the mouths of the char­ac­ters. The breach that threat­ened our country’s exis­tence is healed now. There is no side but Abra­ham Lincoln’s side. And this side, with all rev­er­ence and patri­o­tism, the author has tried to take. Yet Abra­ham Lin­coln loved the South as well as the North.

Churchillian parallels

Here then is anoth­er inter­est­ing con­ver­gence between the two Win­ston Churchills. Each shared a admi­ra­tion for the nobil­i­ty and sac­ri­fice of  the Blue and the Grey. Both hon­ored the uni­fy­ing genius of Abra­ham Lin­coln. The nov­el­ist prais­es Lincoln’s love for the South as well as the North. He ends The Cri­sis with the immor­tal words of Lincoln’s sec­ond inau­gur­al address:

With mal­ice toward none, with char­i­ty for all, with firm­ness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to fin­ish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the bat­tle, and for his wid­ow and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cher­ish a just and a last­ing peace, among our­selves, and with all nations.

Win­ston Churchill the Eng­lish­man also quot­ed those indeli­ble words—in oth­er con­texts but with equal fervor.

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