CHURCHILL OUT OF HIBERNATION, WEEK 10
Not many sons get to write their father’s biography. Winston Churchill wrote a best-selling, two-volume biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, when he was just 31. In our stroll through his works, LORD RANDOLPH is our next stop.
Randolph Churchill, the third, non-inheriting son of the Duke of Marlborough, was a commanding, utterly unpredictable M.P. who spoke his mind with little fear or favor, dazzling and confounding his Conservative peers with lightning-quick phrase-making and populist rhetoric. His young son memorized his father’s every public utterance and compensated for Lord Randolph’s shameful parental neglect by elevating (and thus largely reinventing) his father as a kind of perfected beacon that Winston Churchill would pursue throughout his political life.
Lord Randolph committed political suicide when his son was twelve, resigning almost immediately after being named Chancellor of the Exchequer by his nemesis, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in a stand-down game of “Dare” that Lord Randolph lost. His career never recovered. His fall was particularly incomprehensible and acute for his son, rendering his remote father more distant and unknowable than ever. “One could not grow up in my father’s house . . . without understanding that there had been a great political disaster,” he later wrote. “ . . . I would far rather have been apprenticed as a bricklayer’s mate, or run errands as a messenger boy, or helped my father to dress the front windows of a grocer’s shop. It would have been real; it would have been natural; it would have taught me more; and I should have done it much better. Also I should have got to know my father, which would have been a joy to me.”
Lord Randolph Churchill died on January 24, 1895 (the same date as his son, seventy years later) following a painful deterioration attributed at the time to syphilis (though one revisionist medical historian today speculates he may have been suffering from an inoperable brain tumor). Whatever the true diagnosis, Winston Churchill was devastated by his father’s prolonged and brutally public decline. Yet, the death of Lord Randolph Churchill liberated him. As his own son Randolph later wrote in the official Churchill biography: “If Lord Randolph had lived . . . he would have been an obstacle to Winston’s career and prospects.” With Lord Randolph’s death, Winston “was free to leave the nest and soar.”
Winston Churchill’s impassioned two-volume biography of his father LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL, was published in January 1906. Having eloquently defended Lord Randolph’s maligned reputation, Churchill now determined to make himself into a public figure whose attainments would reverse every negative opinion his father had ever held of him. Though the son had inherited much of his father’s often damagingly precipitate self-absorption, Winston Churchill, unlike his father, would live long enough to be altogether vindicated in his self-confidence.
We wish you continued safety, good health and a self-confidence that will be vindicated.