Finest Hour 129, Winter 2005-06
Book Announcement – Becoming Winston Churchill
The Churchill Centre is delighted to announce that in 2007, Finest Hour contributors Michael McMenamin (“Action This Day”) and Curt Zoller (“Churchilltrivia”) will publish their book, Becoming Winston Churchill: The Untold Story of How Churchill’s Political Thought and Oratory Were Shaped by His Irish-American Mentor, Bourke Cockran. The publishers will be Greenwood Publishing in Britain and Praeger in the United States.
Becoming Winston Churchill is an outgrowth of Zoller’s Finest Hour article, “The Earth is a Generous Mother: William Bourke Cockran, Churchill’s American Mentor” (FH 115, Summer 2002) and McMenamin’s “Becoming Winston Churchill,” delivered at the 2004 convention of the American Political Science Association. It will contain all known Churchill-Cockran correspondence (25,000 words), the major portion of which occurs between 1895, when Churchill was 20, and 1906, when WSC achieved his first executive office as Colonial Under-Secretary. FH readers may obtain an electronic version of McMenamin’s text from the author at [email protected]
While Churchillians know of Bourke Cockran, he is sadly little-known in American history. Yet Cockran, who died in 1923, was a free trade, anti-imperialist Democrat Member of Congress whose friend Theodore Roosevelt called him “the greatest orator using the English language today.” Cockran’s Republican colleague in Congress from New York, Hamilton Fish, Jr., said that, except for Theodore Roosevelt, Cockran was the ablest man he had ever met, and that he had more knowledge of history than anyone in his generation.
In 1906, Churchill wrote his first cousin, Shane Leslie (who later became Cockran’s brother-in-law) and asked him to tell Cockran that “I regard his as the biggest and most original mind I have ever met. When I was a young man he instantly gained my confidence and I feel that I owe the best things in my career to him.”
In 1930, Churchill wrote of Cockran in Thoughts and Adventures: “I have never seen his like, or in some respects his equal….his conversation, in point, in pith, in rotundity, in antithesis, and in comprehension, exceeded anything I have ever heard.”
Even in his seventies Churchill remembered his old friend, telling Adlai Stevenson that Cockran “taught me how to use every note of the human voice like an organ….He was my model—I learned from him how to hold thousands in thrall.”
Excerpts from the book may be published in future issues; for readers who would like a flavor of what is in store for them, we reprint below, with the authors’ permission, the prologue to Becoming Winston Churchill.
It began with a love story. Born on different sides of the Atlantic, two Americans–a man and a woman–met in Paris in the spring of 1895, each grieving a lost love. They had led political lives at the highest level in their chosen lands. Attractive and strong-willed, they were immediately, magnetically drawn to one another. They rode horses and bicycles. They went to plays, restaurants, museums and glittering dinner parties. They talked and they argued, in English and in French. They became lovers.
Their affair was intense and exhausting, each too strong for the other. They reluctantly parted that summer, friends still. That autumn, she asked a favor. Would he take her 20-year-old son under his wing on his first journey to the land of her birth, and provide a strong man’s influence, something needed but unreceived from the boy’s late father? The man would and did, because he had no child of his own. And because she asked.
He immediately recognized the young man’s courage, strength and brilliance—truly his mother’s son. He was the first man, but not the last, to see this. For the next ten years, when no one else could or would, he taught the young man all that he knew through word and deed, showing him how to place principle over party, helping him to use the English language as a painter would a palette, offering himself as a role model as if the young man were his own son, stepping silently back once he was done and the young man’s public career had well begun. The two lovers in turn remarried—but not to one another. Still, along with her son, he was at her side the day she died, twenty-six years after they met, the friend he had promised always to be. Two years later, he was gone as well.
And less than two decades after their deaths, her son’s courage saved his country. And the world.
The man was Bourke Cockran. The woman was Lady Randolph Churchill, the former Jennie Jerome. Everyone knows her remarkable son.