April 30, 2013

DESPATCH BOX: FINEST HOUR 148, AUTUMN 2010
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In these troubled times I turn my thoughts to Churchill and the winter of 1941 and feel much better. I also try to view the nonsense of current events through the lens of a historian writing in 2080. The moral: Things have never been better, and they’re terrible. -ROBERT H. PILPEL, WHITE PLAINS, N.Y

SMOKING UP THE JOINT

Finest Hour 147 (page 63) poked amusing fun at the airbrushing of Churchill’s cigar on a poster outside the “Britain at War Experience,” a tourist site next to the “London Dungeon.” Evidently the uproar has influenced management. I passed by today and noted that a new poster had been put up, complete with cigar. -ANTHONY CALABRESE, RUTHERFORD, N.J.

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ERRATUM, FH 147

John Tory (FH 147:7) was a former Leader of the Ontario Province Progressive Conservative Party but never Premier of Ontario. Actually we have civic elections in October and there is strong pressure on him to run for Mayor—he would stand a very strong chance to win. -TERRY REARDON, ETOBICOKE, ONT

…PRAYERS AND THE LASH

Can you please revisit this supposed Churchill quotation? I see it among the “Red Herrings” non-quotes in your book, Churchill By Himself, but it’s listed by the Yale Book of Quotations. -DONALD ABRAMS, HERMOSA BEACH, CALIF.

Editor’s response: “Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, buggery [sometimes ‘sodomy’] and the lash.” Churchill By Himself listed this Churchillism in the “Red Herrings” appendix of unattributed remarks, because I could not track it. Turns out I was not searching for exactly the right phrase—but I’m still not entirely at ease with this one. Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, offers a slightly different version of the quote, giving as his source Nigel Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters, 3 vols. (London: Collins 1966-68) III, 193, which is as follows:

“Paddy Leigh Fermor tells me [that] when Winston was at the Admiralty, the Board objected to some suggestion of his on the grounds that it would not be in accord with naval tradition. ‘Naval tradition? Naval tradition?’ said Winston. ‘Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.'”

Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor DSO OBE (b. 1915 and still with us) would seem an upstanding source. A distinguished soldier, who parachuted into Crete with the SOE to organize the island’s resistance to German occupation, he was also widely admired for his travel books.

I’ve altered my note to this entry in my appendix to quote Leigh Fermor via Nicolson. The latter, himself usually reliable, did have this secondhand; moreover, I think Churchill was not quite original. It is more likely that he was embellishing something he’d read.

There are preceding occurrences of similar phrases, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: “Compare ‘Rum, bum, and bacca’ and ‘Ashore it’s wine women and song, aboard it’s rum, bum and concertina,’ naval catch phrases dating from the nineteenth century.” So running this to earth is tricky, like Churchill’s famous crack about Democracy (“the worst system, except for all the others”)— which WSC admitted was by an earlier author when he voiced it in the House of Commons in 1947.

If you like it, use it, but be sure it’s Leigh Fermor’s version!

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