- Historic Sites
The great man’s daughter-in-law draws a portrait of the statesman at the top of his career and at the bottom
October/november 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 6
The depression into which he fell, in fact, lasted far more than a week. Even as he worked on his massive history of the war and on regaining power for the Conservatives and himself, his sense of rejection never fully lifted. I did not realize how deep it ran until years later when I read a short story—never published—that he had written in November 1947. He called it “The Dream.”
The story is a dialogue between Winston and his father, Lord Randolph, who appears to Winston in his studio at Chartwell, where Winston is working to copy a badly torn old portrait of the father he loved and felt he could never please. Their talk turns into a report from son to father on the twentieth-century world and English history. There are flashes of humor: Winston explains, for example, that the Socialists are in power but have been civilized enough to retain the monarchy. “They even go to parties at Buckingham Palace,” he tells his father. “Those who have very extreme principles wear sweaters.”
Later Lord Randolph exclaims in shock at the idea of women voting—and Winston says, “It did not turn out as badly as I thought.”
“You don’t allow them in the House of Commons?” Lord Randolph inquires.
“Oh, yes. Some of them have even been Ministers. There are not many of them. They have found their level.”
“So female suffrage has not made much difference?”
“Well, it has made politicians more mealy-mouthed than in your day. And public meetings are less fun. You can’t say the things you used to.”
They talk on, through a poignant passage where Lord Randolph recalls the young Winston as the boy at the “bottom of the school! Never passed any examinations, except into the cavalry! Wrote me stilted letters… I once thought of the bar for you, but you were not clever enough… . Old people are always very impatient with young ones. Fathers always expect their sons to have their virtues without their faults.”
The interrogation continues, with Winston able only to tell his father about the two World Wars, the loss of India, the rise of the United States as a world power. “What happened to the great states of Europe?” Lord Randolph asks. “Is Russia still the danger? Is there still a Tsar?”
“Yes, but he is not a Romanoff,” Winston answers. “It’s another family. He is much more powerful, and much more despotic. ”
“What of Germany? What of France?”
“They are both shattered. Their only hope is to rise together …”
“But wars like these must have cost a million lives,” Lord Randolph says. “They must have been as bloody as the American Civil War.”
“Papa,” Winston says, “in each of them, about 30 million men were killed in battle. In the last one, seven million were murdered in cold blood, mainly by the Germans. They made human slaughter pens, like the Chicago stockyards. Europe is a ruin. Many of her cities have been blown to pieces by bombs. Ten capitals in Eastern Europe are in Russian hands. They are Communists now, you know—Karl Marx and all that. It may well be that an even worse war is drawing near. A war of East against the West. A war of liberal civilization against the Mongol hordes. Far gone are the days of Queen Victoria and a settled world order. But, having gone through so much, we do not despair.”
Lord Randolph then replies, “Winston, you have told me a terrible tale. I would never have believed that such things could happen. I am glad I did not live to see them. As I listened to you unfolding these fearful facts you seemed to know a great deal about them. I never expected that you would develop so far and so fully. Of course you are too old to think about such things, but when I hear you talk I really wonder you didn’t go into politics. You might have done a lot to help. You might even have made a name for yourself. ”
“He gave me a benignant smile,” Winston writes in conclusion. “He then took the match to light his cigarette and struck it. There was a tiny flash. He vanished. The chair was empty. The illusion had passed. I rubbed my brush again in my paint, and turned to finish the moustache. But so vivid had my fancy been that I felt too tired to go on. Also, my cigar had gone out, and the ash had fallen among all the paints.”
ONLY ONE NOTE in that conclusion rings false. Never, during the war years, did I see Winston Churchill “too tired to go on.” But never, until I read this story, did I sense in him the depth of his own doubts, particularly the feeling that the British people, by showing their lack of faith in him, had also reflected Lord Randolph’s early judgment of his son.
History’s judgment is different. So is mine.