February 13, 2015

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 11


Q: Being interested in the current debate over the growing divide between rich and poor, I was startled to read a remarkably apposite speech by Churchill from 1909. He was speaking about the House of Lords veto, but the text differs between the official biography, Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life, and the Complete Speeches edited by Robert Rhodes James. Why? —JAMES MACK, FAIRFIELD, OHIO

A: This was Churchill’s Budget Speech in Leicester, 4 September 1909, first published in volume form in Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909), dated the 5th. From Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (1991): “He also spoke of the dangers of class warfare should the Budget proposals, and all they stood for, be rejected. ‘If we carry on in the old happy-go-lucky way, the richer classes ever growing in wealth and in number, the very poor remaining plunged or plunging ever deeper into helpless, hopeless misery,’ he warned, ‘then I think there is nothing before us but the savage strife between class and class, and an increasing disorganisation, with the increasing waste of human strength and human virtue.’ So angry was the King at these words, that his Private Secretary wrote to The Times in protest, an act without apparent precedent.”

In Winston S. Churchill, vol. 2 (1967), Randolph Churchill used brackets, which Gilbert deleted, and deleted two dashes: “If we [carry] on in the old happy go lucky way….”

The word Randolph replaced with “[carry]” was “stand,” which appears in the speech in both Liberalism and the Social Problem and The People’s Rights (1910). In the former it is footnoted “From The Times, by permission”). The Liberalism text was edited, probably by both Churchill and The Times. It is also much less fun than in Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897-1963 (1974), which includes all the interruptions—from “hear, hear” to “it’s a disgrace for you to be standing on the platform”! (As Churchill told the ghost of his father in his 1947 fantasy, The Dream, politics had become a lot more mealy-mouthed by then.)

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Your paragraph reads as follows in the Complete Speeches. Brackets indicate the text in Liberalism and the Social Problem:

“The two roads are open. We stand [are] at the crossways. If we stand on in the old happy-go-lucky way —[comma] the richer classes ever growing in wealth and in number, and the very poor remaining plunged or plunging ever deeper in helpless, hopeless misery —[comma] then I think there is nothing before us but savage strife between class and class, with the [an] increasing disorganisation, with increasing waste of human strength and human virtue, nothing [in fact], but that dual degeneration which comes from the simultaneous waste of extreme wealth and extreme want.”

Setting aside the textual variations, isn’t this a potent speech? Some would say it has leftist or liberal implications, and they would be right. In 1909 young Winstion was a crusading Liberal. His remarks added to his reputation as a “traitor to his class.” In the Complete Speeches, Robert Rhodes James wrote: “This speech deeply shocked many of Churchill’s former friends and provoked a letter of protest to The Times from the King’s private secretary…Churchill was also rebuked by the Prime Minister”—WSC’s fellow Liberal, H.H. Asquith.


Q: Manchester’s The Last Lion (Prologue, vol. 1) alleges that the term POSH is derived from “Port Out, Starboard Home,” the preferred side of steamships for Britons traveling to and from India, and was sometimes even stamped on their tickets. But other explanations, such as that on Snopes.com, contend otherwise. How reliable is William Manchester, in general?”

A: Snopes.com says the word might first have meant “cash,” -but “Port Out, Starboard Home” didn’t surface until 1935, two decades after it appeared as a synonym for “luxurious” or “swank”—nothing about stamping POSH on tickets.

You are right to take Manchester with a grain of salt. I noted so many errors of fact in my review of volume 1 that he asked me to vet volume 2. I found 600 nits to pick and am fairly sure he didn’t consider them all. The gaffes ranged from his thinking Lullenden was a village (it was WSC’s first country home) to misinterpreting the meaning of the key East Fulham by-election in the 1930s. Manchester was a great stylist, and few had a better way with words. His prologues are wonderful reads. The best place to go for facts is Martin Gilbert’s official biography, or his one-volume work, Churchill: A Life. RML

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