Finest Hour 113, Winter 2001-02
By James W. Muller & Rickard M. Langworth
A reader asks, “Is the one-volume abridged Marlborough worth my time?” The answer is “yes” and “no”….
Churchill’s Marlborough is one of the great books of the 20th century: it is Churchill’s literary masterpiece, and (as Leo Strauss famously said) an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding. I have written about it, chaired an academic symposium on it, and taught it to undergraduates in a seminar. It is much to be regretted that it is out of print, and it is one of the Churchill books that The Churchill Center is most interested in having reprinted.
The abridgment by Commager (1968 et. seq.) is much less interesting than die full version, which appeared in four volumes in Britain and six in America, both of these editions seeing several reprints. In postwar England it appeared again in a revised two-volume edition which is also complete, and the one that would be most economical to reprint.
The defects of the Commager edition are two: (1) His introduction doesn’t capture the full worth of the book, because Commager didn’t grasp it; (2) his abridgment doesn’t reflect the full worth of the book, either, because he tilts it so much toward accounts of battles, which are exciting and well done, but fail to show Churchill’s mastery of politics. On the other hand, the abridgment is a good read; it might be used in some college courses, book discussion groups, etc.; and it would be good to have the book back in print in some form. Barnes & Noble seems to do well by bringing back periodically the abridgments of Churchill’s World War I and II memoirs, and this abridgment might be enjoy a steady, though probably smaller, sale. But a full-scale edition is better suited to the Easton Press, or to an academic press.
The 300th anniversary of the Batde of Blenheim, which is die fulcrum of Marlborough’s story, is coming up on 13 August 2004. It strikes me that that would be a suitable moment for reprinting Churchill’s Marlborough. At the same time, if terms were right, The Churchill Center might propose that a university press publish the book resulting from our Marlborough symposium organized at Blenheim Palace in 1998, which brought together leading British and American scholars to write papers on the book and has produced a very intriguing manuscript, to be entided Winston Churchill’s Life of Marlborough. —JWM
Churchill and Ireland
Your website is clearly a huge effort, but there were such glaring errors on a subject I know that I thought I should point them out: /fh93bks.htm, George Richard’s review of Churchill and Ireland by Mary C. Bromage (FH 93) is littered with errors, and an odd bias.
Richard states: “That period saw the Curragh Mutiny in 1914, when British officers resigned their commissions rather than face the possibility of being ordered to fire on the local populace. [After World War I], machinations recommenced and in 1920 the Government of Ireland Act saw partition become a fact of life. The following year, the Anglo-Irish Treaty created the Irish Free State. The year after that saw the infamous Easter Rising….”
The Easter Rising was, rather famously, in 1916. The Curragh Mutiny description is misleading—the officers of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade said they would not enforce government “Home Rule” policy against the Loyalists; hardly die same thing, more fascistic than altruistic.
Your reviewer also states: “One of the Irish leaders with whom Churchill dealt in engineering the Irish Treaty was Michael Collins, the Irish Republican Army gunman turned negotiator who was assassinated shortly afterwards by his own comrades for his efforts. On his deathbed he said, ‘Tell Winston we could have done nothing without him.'”
This is preposterous. Collins was a “gunman turned negotiator” only in the sense that you might describe Churchill similarly. Collins was finance minister in a government elected with overwhelming support, and was the commander-inchief of the IRA, which at the time could be likened to the French Resistance. The quote attributed to Collins is equally ludicrous. Collins’s actual quote, on signing the treaty, was “I tell you, I have signed my death warrant.” And his assassination occurred while driving on the road when he was shot in the head and died instandy—no deathbed, no quote.
Collins’s remark, “Tell Winston we could have done nothing without him,” is widely known and often referred to. See for example Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill V (1975) p. 894—although Gilbert is careful to say that this remark was made “shortly before his death,” not “from his deathbed.”
While our website text did misdate the Easter Rebellion and inaccurately characterize the Curragh Mutiny, these comments did not appear in the published article. Nowadays we post the exact published words, but at that time, much material was posted to our website in raw form, often before editing, which is a fairly rigorous process. Most of the paragraph about the Curragh and 1916 was edited out before publication. Our webmaster has now replaced the posted review with the actual published version.
We have also changed the description of Collins to “revolutionary turned negotiator.” —RML
Woods Corner is a bibliophile’s column named in memory of Frederick Woods, the first biblliographer of Winston S. Churchill.