June 5, 2013

Finest Hour 143, Summer 2009

Page 25

Wit and Wisdom – “Grasp the Larger Hope”

Once he found a felicitous phrase, it stuck…

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In writing the footnotes for James Muller’s new edition of Thoughts and Adventures (reviewed on page 45), I came across this line in Churchill’s article, “The Irish Treaty”: “Both are needed to explain the perplexities of the British Government and the causes which led them ‘to grasp the larger hope.’” I traced the likely source (“trust the larger hope”) to Alfred Tennyson (1809-92), who became First Baron Tennyson in 1884. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1850.

The poem is IN MEMORIAM A.H.H – OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII. It was written by Tennyson in memory of his close Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly in 1833 of a cerebral haemorrhage, aged 22; he had been engaged to marry Tennyson’s sister.

Tennyson was so affected by the loss of Arthur Hallam that he spent the next seventeen years writing this long work, which consists of no fewer than 131 separate poems presented as one. It was published in 1850. Section LV (55) consists of five verses, “the larger hope” coming from its final lines:

I stretch lame hands of faith and grope, And gather dust and chaff, and call To what I feel is Lord of all, And faintly trust the larger hope.

The phrase rang a loud bell and I recalled that Churchill had also deployed it in My Early Life and The Gathering Storm. With the editor’s help I found it to have been one of his favourites, having been used in a variety of contexts as follows:


Churchill in My Early Life, Chapter X, writes amusingly about acquiring his taste for whisky:

“I now found myself in heat which, though I stood it personally fairly well, was terrific, for five whole days and with absolutely nothing to drink, apart from tea, except either tepid water ortepid water with lime-juice or tepid water with whisky. Faced with these alternatives I ‘grasped the larger hope.’ I was sustained in these affairs by my high morale. Wishing to fit myself for active-service conditions I overcame the ordinary weaknesses of the flesh. By the end of these five days I had completely overcome my repugnance to the taste of whisky.”


In a speech on the Statute of Westminster Bill, 20 November 1931 (Complete Speeches, V: 5099) Churchill spoke of continued Empire unity:

“I feel that we are bound, where the great self-governing Dominions of the Crown are concerned, boldly to grasp the larger hope, and to believe, in spite of anything that may be written in Acts of Parliament, that all will come right, nay, all will go better and better between Great Britain and her offspring.”


In Arms and the Covenant, the collection of Churchill speeches leading up to World War II, is his speech of 8 March 1934, “The Need for Air Parity” (see also Complete Speeches V: 5330):

“We all hope [war] will never take place, and I am not at all prepared, standing here, to assume that it will inevitably take place. On the contrary, I still grasp the larger hope and believe that we may wear our way through these difficulties and leave this grim period behind.”


Step by Step, Churchill’s collection of articles about foreign affairs, includes “How to Meet the Bill,” first published 22 January 1937:

“I personally grasp the larger hope; but, however this grim issue in world destiny may be decided, it is evident that Great Britain should finance the expansion of her defence programmes to the fullest possible extent….”


Sir Martin Gilbert in Churchill: The Wilderness Years, (London: Macmillan, 1981, 240), seems to be quoting Churchill post-Munich, though this does not come up in the official biography:

“In many letters [Churchill] referred to his deep distress and in one he explained why he felt he was ‘groping in the dark.’ Until Munich the ‘peace loving powers’ had ‘been definitely stronger than the Dictators,’ but in 1939 ‘we must expect a different balance.’ It was this new situation, he wrote, which ‘staggered’ him and momentarily caused him to despair. But, in his characteristic way he immediately struggled to grasp the ‘larger hope’ and turned to the possibility of greater United States involvement in Europe.”


In The Gathering Storm, Chapter 20, Churchill writes of what he calls “The Soviet Enigma”:

“Statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions. These often settle themselves. It is where the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for worldsaving decisions presents itself. Having got ourselves into this awful plight of 1939, it was vital to grasp the larger hope.”


Speaking of European Unity at The Hague on 7 May 1948 (Europe Unite, 317), Churchill used the phrase with a plural:

“…if we all pull together and pool the luck and the comradeship…and grimly grasp the larger hopes of humanity, then it may be that we shall move into a happier sunlit age…”

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