March 15, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 30

By Ronald I. Cohen

“Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.”
Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson, ca. 1894. Quoted by Churchill in his final review of World War II and his first speech as Leader of the Opposition, House of Commons, 16 August 1945

On 1 December 1900, the young officer and war correspondent who had distinguished himself in four wars over five years boarded the Lucania to sail for New York. There he would begin a lengthy lecture tour of North America. He had recently been elected a Member of Parliament, and would take his seat on 14 February 1901. His first address, at the Waldorf in New York City on 12 December, was chaired by none other than Mark Twain (see “When the Twain Met,” FH 149:40). The Christmas period was largely spent in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

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On 9 January 1901, after a final three-day visit to Ottawa, Churchill spoke on “Peace and Prosperity” to a large, anti-imperialistic crowd of students at the Auditorium of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After his remarks, a young reporter for the university literary magazine, Gustavus Ohlinger, did his best to wangle an interview. His persistence paid off.

When Churchill finished, Ohlinger followed him to his hotel and approached his manager, Major J.B. Pond, with his request. Pond was not impressed, arguing that Churchill had just turned down an offer of $2000 from a national magazine. Somehow Ohlinger convinced him to present his impecunious request directly to his quarry.

Just a few minutes later Pond returned, saying Churchill would see Ohlinger, and he took the student to Churchill’s room.

Sixty-five years later, after Sir Winston’s death, Gustavus Ohlinger finally wrote of that meeting in the Michigan Quarterly Review—explaining why it had taken him so long to publish. Back in 1901, he wrote,

“I met the handsomest young man I had ever seen, the scion of the house of Marlborough, the descendant of the great John Churchill, the victor of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. Mr. Churchill greeted me cordially, and then stepped to a bell rope, which he pulled vigorously. As if automatically, a waiter appeared with a tray on which were two bottles, glasses, and ice. As he filled the glasses, Mr. Churchill remarked: ‘My manager tells me that you would like an interview for publication in your college paper—I shall talk very freely to you, but I want your word that you will not publish anything I say that might reflect in any way upon my parliamentary position.’”

The interview carried on well into the night—a foretaste of the late-night palaver for which Churchill would be renowned all his life. Ohlinger kept his word, and published only those parts of the interview that bore on journalism and the “purity of the English language.” He left out Churchill’s remarks about Cuba, the Malakand campaign, Egypt and the Sudan, the Chinese, South Africa, and sensationalism in American newspapers.

Recalling his experience in 1966, Ohlinger continued: “It was now four o’clock in the morning— one bottle was empty—and I was reminded that I had an eight o’clock class. I bade farewell to my host, never dreaming that the handsome young man who had been so generous of his time and information was destined to carry upon his shoulders the fate of nations and the happiness of millions yet unborn.”

What follows are, first, the text of Churchill’s 1901 article derived from the Ohlinger interview, as published in The Inlander (Cohen C218/1), which has not, to the best of my knowledge, been republished anywhere since then; and, second, the interview with Ohlinger, as he reconstructed it for the first time following Churchill’s death (in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 1966). The interview includes more than twice the words in the Inlander article, which do not in any event appear there in the order originally spoken. For the sake of continuity, despite the small amount of repetition, I have determined to leave them in. The original spellings (e.g., “to-day”) have been retained.

Editor’s Note:

Reread in 2013, the following articles offer interesting contrasts—in both what has changed and what has not. Infinitives are split just as egregiously today as they were then. But sensationalism has now permeated the British press (“media” in modern parlance) as well as the American. No one would suggest now that “in England less notice is taken of private affairs.”

Today in America the New York Times is often regarded as a “national” newspaper. Moreover, though, people everywhere have multiple “national dailies” via the World Wide Web. The vast distances Churchill observed in the United States and Canada have, in terms of communication, vanished. “Even elderly parliamentarians like myself,” he quipped at Harvard in September 1943, “are forced to acquire a high degree of mobility.”

And, of course, we still speak the same language— which, as Bismarck said at the end of the 19th century was (in Churchill’s words) “the most potent factor in human society.”

As for the interview, it is difficult to judge what Churchill might have thought potentially deleterious to his political career. His words to Ohlinger were judicious and diplomatic. We may smile today at the timeliness of his China prescription: “I think we shall have to take the Chinese in hand and regulate them.” Westerners have been trying to do that for centuries.

Modern critics would of course bemoan the reference to triumph by “the Aryan stock”; but that was the way Englishmen thought in 1901. It was left to Hitler to give Aryans a bad name.

Churchill did not think much of the power of the American press. I suspect he would consider today’s 24/7 digital media a lot more powerful. But it remains the case that the English media give far more attention to international affairs than their American counterparts.

In both his article and his interview, Churchill regrets that no one “looks after” the English language, which, he says, tends “to diverge into dialect.” That certainly could be reiterated today. We can almost hear him saying, with Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady: “Why can’t the English learn to set a good example to people whose English is painful to your ears?…In America they haven’t used it for years.”

Mr. Cohen, of Ottawa, Ontario, is the foremost bibliographer of Sir Winston Churchill and has contributed to Finest Hour since the mid-1980s.

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