CHURCHILL BACK IN BUSINESS, WEEK 6
Princess Marthe Bibesco is a name that cries out fairy tale or film treatment. The Princess, however, was quite real, and knew Winston Churchill quite well. We conjure her next, and her powerfully evocative book, Sir Winston Churchill: Master of Courage, as we continue our survey of the very few Churchill memoirs written by women.
She was born in 1886, Marta Lucia Lahovari in Bucharest, daughter of a Romanian nobleman and his princess wife. Married at 17 to an aristocratic playboy diplomat, Prince George III Valentin Bibescu, she lived a young socialite’s life at home and in Paris until her husband was dispatched on a mission to Persia. She accompanied him and published a diary of her travels, Les Huit Paradis (“The Eight Paradises”), that was received with unexpected acclaim, launching her on an epic career as a writer of both non-fiction and fiction. Proust wrote, after meeting her, “You are not only a splendid writer, Princess, but a sculptor of words, a musician, a purveyor of scents, a poet.”
The Princess and her husband both dallied romantically outside of their marriage, as Central European aristocrats who spoke perfect French were wont to do. She survived the First World War, as did her marriage, wrote endlessly (her journals alone numbered 65 volumes) and, in 1920, met Winston Churchill in London. Their friendship lasted to his death.
Published in 1959, Sir Winston Churchill: Master of Courage is only peripherally a memoir. Most of it is straightforward biography, shot through, however, with the Princess Bibesco’s very personal reminiscences. All of it is keyed cleverly, and in sum quite revealingly, to its subtitled theme: Winston Churchill’s courage.
Princess Bibesco’s “catalogue of his many and sometimes apparently contradictory forms of courage,” opens the book. Few descriptions of Churchill’s character, written before or since, have surpassed it:
The courage to admit that he is wrong and proclaim it out loud…the courage to venture into the future all by himself; the courage to believe in the power of the past both in the history of nations and individuals…the courage not to flatter tastes, prejudices, privileges or popular passions; the courage to enjoy luxury and not be ashamed of it; the courage to be able, if necessary, to do without ordinary comforts; the courage to adopt other people’s ideals……the courage to admit that he has a craving for power; the courage to relinquish it, not only when forced to do so by others, which is easy, seeing that it is inevitable, but of his own accord, which requires great courage. The courage to make a spectacle of himself; the courage to withstand contradiction, insults, contempt and calumny, to tolerate hatred or, what is even worse, being passed over in silence and forgotten… the courage of his own opinions — always; the courage to give in unconditionally when it becomes expedient, at the expense of his own convictions, however strong and cherished…The courage to tolerate misunderstanding and disappointment for eleven years, a very long period in the lifetime of a statesman; the courage to refrain and allow others to say: “I told you so,” when his prophesies almost without exception came true at the same time; the courage to keep up the daily fight against what Carlyle called “the powers of stupidity,” which can take every conceivable form.
We wish you continued vaccinated good health and the courage to survive “the powers of stupidity,”
as survive we will, as survive we must.