By BARRY SINGER
After publishing his first book in 1898, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, about his self-propelled military adventures on India’s Northwest Frontier, young Winston Churchill became fixated on another seemingly impossible mission. In Egypt, General Sir Herbert Kitchener had been handed a force of twenty thousand men by the British government with instructions to advance south into Sudan and demolish once and for all the power of the Dervishes there. As Churchill later wrote, “I was deeply anxious to share in this.”
Here, really, were the first examples of something one might legitimately call Churchill style: the ambition, the energy, the resourcefulness, and the boundless self-confidence of this twenty-three-year-old child of political privilege who felt he had something to prove—also his annoying if undeniable talent; his infuriating conviction that he was destined for greatness, as well as his fearlessness in pursuing it, flouting rules along the way as they if they did not apply to him.
On the surface, these qualities were easy to suspect. Churchill style was rarely about surfaces at all, however, but about substance. Still, for the narrow-minded, the short-sighted, and the resentful majority of “English gentlemen” who ruled the British Empire consumed almost entirely by surface proprieties, the rambunctious forward motion of Churchill style really did give offense.
Still Churchill persevered. Soon he was again where he desired to be—this time in Egypt, attached, over the objections of General Kitchener himself, to the 21st Lancers as a supernumerary lieutenant, and writing for the Morning Post at a rate of £15 per column. These columns Churchill would soon collect and expand into a two-volume book, The River War.
Barry Singer is the author of Churchill Style (Abrams Image, 2012) and the proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City.