Reading Winston Churchill’s Biography of His Father Today
Reflections By the Editor
Long out of print, the lengthy two-volume biography that Winston Churchill wrote about his father more than a century ago must be one of the least read of his books today. Certainly the size intimidates, but there are other problems. There was much young Winston could not or would not say about his subject due to various constraints: he was himself an MP who had just switched parties, many of his father’s colleageus were still active and powerful politicians and his own mother was still very much alive. Additionally, the work fit the traditional “tombstone” genre of its day as it included verbatim copies of numerous letters, cables and memoranda with little or no narrative threading them together. So why should anyone today outside of academia read a book so heavily laden with the small change of paleolithic politics? Because the narrative that does surround the documents (which are easily skimmed) is by Winston Churchill–and that is never dull.
Lord Randolph’s brief period as a leading member of his party and cabinet minister (1885-6) coincided with William Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule for Ireland. Thus, the book afforded Winston Churchill the opportunity to chronicle the history of an issue that dramatically affected his own career as well as to draw sketches of Gladstone, Charles Stewart Parnell, the Marquess of Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain as these Victorian titans accmodated themselves to a rapidly expanding electorate. This is a book about realpolitik by one who became a master practitioner of the art in his own right.
The book is filled with Winston Churchill’s characteristic sardonic wit such as this observation: “To build from the rock a great new party–free alike from vested interests and from holy formulas, able to deal with national problems on their merits, patient to respect the precious bequests of the past, strong to drive forward the wheels of progress–is without doubt a worthy ideal. Alas, that the degeneracy of man should exclude it forever from this wicked world!”
To obtain a copy of Lord Randolph Churchill please contact one of these fine dealers: The Churchill Book Collector at churchillbookcollector.com; Chartwell Booksellers at churchillbooks.com or The Churchill Book Specialist at wscbooks.com.