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Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill

The Morgan Library & New Orleans’ National World War II Museum – Revisited

by Barry Singer

The settings contrasted delightfully: the sedate Morgan Library, the exuberant National World War II Museum of New Orleans. CHURCHILL STYLE suited both settings equally well, as it turned out. I had a ball recently delivering talks at both institutions.

On Wednesday June 27, after a private viewing of the marvelous Morgan exhibition: Churchill: The Power of WordsI shared an hour or so of Churchill lore with an intimate gathering of the Morgan’s Association of Fellows and Conservator members.

Walking through this extraordinary exhibit, I found myself reminded of a letter I had cut at the last minute from the manuscript of Churchill Style for the simple reason that it just didn’t seem to quite fit my focus on Churchill’s world away from work.

The letter was written on the 3rd of April 1899. Having just taken part, at the age of 24, in the last great cavalry charge of English history at the Battle of Omdurman, Winston Churchill was staying at the Savoy Hotel in Cairo.

As he did virtually every day, he wrote his mother a letter. Unlike all the letters he had sent to her before, this one was not in longhand. Rather, it had been dictated to a stenographer and was typed, all except for the final paragraph, which read in Churchill’s inked scrawl:

I rather like these dictated letters. They are very simple & natural and I think it is good practice in talking fluently. I gave this to the stenographer as fast as she could take it down and it runs quite smoothly.

I realized, in stumbling upon this letter, that I was witnessing the moment that Winston Churchill discovered his style as a writer. For the next sixty years he would write forty books and uncountable speeches, standing up or lying down, but almost always while dictating to a stenographer. He employed an army of them. Virtually every word in Churchill: The Power of Words had been dictated – one ongoing speech, in a sense, delivered aloud by a man who battled a speech impediment his whole life and through that battle became one of history’s great orators.

Where the Morgan event was an intimate affair, my appearance in New Orleans on Saturday July 14 came before a crowd of 150 or so at the Second Winston Churchill Symposium, hosted by the Churchill Society of New Orleans and the city’s National World War II Museum. I shared the podium with three extremely distinguished historians, Nigel Hamilton, author of Monty and the forthcoming FDR at War; Barbara Leaming, author of Churchill Defiant; and Douglas Russell, author of Winston Churchill: Soldier. The four of us had an exhilaratingly exasperating time dueling over Nigel Hamilton’s insistence (also the thesis of his new book) that Churchill lost FDR’s respect and very nearly the war in the Pacific single-handedly by refusing to give India its independence in 1942. The stewards of the museum steered with admirable New Orleans amiability exchanges that might otherwise have deteriorated into something akin to The Longest Day. Churchill Style was, nonetheless, especially well-served. I mean, how many symposiums (Churchill or otherwise) can boast their own designated cocktail? This one did: Pimm’s Cup, which was served in seemingly unquenchable quantities at the reception that concluded our workday. Ah, New Orleans…

 

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