September 23, 2023

The Art of Being Winston Churchill: Nobel Prize


Seventy years ago, in October 1953, Sir Winston Churchill learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. At first he was disappointed. He had wanted the prize for peace, but that had gone to Albert Schweitzer. Churchill appeared to be of two minds about accepting. He wrote his wife Clementine that they would probably have to travel to Stockholm and visit with the King of Sweden, but he also told his private secretary Anthony Montague Browne, “I’m not going to stand up there with those chemists and a catch-‘em-alive-o,’” by which he meant Schweitzer.

Churchill’s attitude changed, however, when he learned the financial details associated with the prestigious award. “My darling one,” he wrote Clementine, “It’s all settled about the Nobel Prize. £12,000 free of tax. Not bad!”

As it turned out, Churchill did accept the award but not in person. The ceremony took place in December, while he was in Bermuda for meetings with President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States and Prime Minister Joseph Laniel of France.

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Clementine traveled with her youngest daughter, Mary, to Stockholm to receive the prize. Schweitzer did not attend the event either. In Churchill’s acceptance remarks, read by Clementine, he declared, “I am proud but also awestruck at your decision to include me. I do hope you are right. I feel we are both running a considerable risk, and that I do not deserve it. But I shall have no misgivings if you have none.”

Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).

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