January 3, 2021

Finest Hour 190, Fourth Quarter 2020

Page 08

By Richard M. Langworth

Richard M. Langworth ([email protected]) has been Senior Fellow for the Hillsdale College Churchill Project since 2014. He is author or editor of sixty books, including Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality, Churchill and the Avoidable War, Churchill by Himself, A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Books of Winston Churchill, and publisher of the first American edition of Winston Churchill’s India.


We go back a long way,” Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn recently reminded me. “I knew Dal Newfield.” He realized that would invoke a fond memory. A few are still left who remember the man responsible for where some of us are today.

Dalton Newfield was a Sacramento resident and army veteran who had admired Winston Churchill since he saw him in person during the Second World War. In 1970, I shrank away from Finest Hour after the first eleven issues, clearing the decks for an automotive writing career in New York City. Dal rescued the thin little newsletter of the “Winston S. Churchill Study Unit” and produced twenty-two issues. His first cover was memorable: a replica of The Times front page for 30 November 1874. In the upper left corner, each copy marked with a hand-applied red dot, was the announcement: “Born at Blenheim Palace, of The Lady Randolph Churchill, a son….”

The Age of Newfield

Dal’s increasingly interesting editions extended far beyond the original scope of stamp collecting. We never had more than $300 in the bank, but he found a friendly printer and begged or borrowed what we then called “halftones”—photos to liven it up. We could not afford typesetting, so he typed each issue on a carbon ribbon Selectric. Running out of space, he would continue articles up and down the margins. It was a happy, eclectic little newssheet, brimming with Churchilliana.

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“Look,” Newfield said early on: “Stamps are fine, but they don’t do justice to this grand character. We need a broader approach. You came up aces with the title Finest Hour. Now let’s rename the organization.” I suggested “International Churchill Society.” It seemed like a good idea at the time.

High among Dal’s priorities was Churchill’s deep literary heritage. He produced many articles about Churchill’s books and books about him, especially Winston S. Churchill, the Official Biography. (Actually there was nothing “official” about it, since the biographer was never asked to follow a particular line.) Martin Gilbert had just succeeded Randolph Churchill, who had published seven volumes. I invited Randolph to be our first honorary member, two weeks before he died in 1968. Martin, a stamp collector, remembered when my letter arrived.

Books were Newfield’s forte— he was the world’s first Churchill specialist bookseller. He worked to get member discounts on Martin’s first volume, The Challenge of War 1914–1916. By 1975, when Martin published the “companion” or document volumes to that work, the book business was taking all of Dal’s spare time. He gave up editing, and Finest Hour vanished. Meanwhile he was selling me books and reigniting my Churchill compulsion. In 1981 he slyly suggested: “You’re freelancing now, so why not revive FH? There’s enough in the treasury for one issue, and I have a pretty good promo list.” He sure did. One of our first subscribers was US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. We returned his check and made him an honorary member. “That way,” Dal said, “he can never get away.”

Alas, only a few months later, Dalton Newfield unexpectedly died, leaving his many friends bereft. One of those was a scholar named Larry Arnn. They had met in the late 1970s, when Larry was Martin Gilbert’s chief of research, while studying at the London School of Economics and Oxford.

The “Great Work” Falters

Larry had joined Martin in 1977, after publication of biographic Volume 5, The Prophet of Truth 1922–1939. Martin and his staff developed the document volumes for The Prophet of Truth. Working with them was a Lancashire girl named Penny, the future Mrs. Arnn. They left for the States in 1980, and the third and last of the Volume 5 documents did not appear until 1983.

Martin and his team were fastidious, interviewing anyone who knew Churchill, vacuuming every archive and resource. Originally Randolph had envisioned five volumes of biography and ten of documents, but the job was exploding. At 1,106 pages, The Prophet of Truth was nearly double the size of the first narrative volume. At 4,592 pages, its accompanying documents nearly quadrupled the page count for the “companions” to Volume I.

Martin Gilbert was not independently wealthy, and his pay for the biography was low. Increasingly, he would set it aside to take on other assignments. Like Sir Winston himself, he was “living from mouth to hand.” The “Great Work” was repeatedly delayed. The last three narrative volumes were done by 1988, but of their accompanying documents, there was no sign. After the last biographic volume, the publishers—Heinemann in the UK and Houghton Mifflin in the US—lost interest. They saw the job as essentially finished; the slow-selling documents were unprofitable. Yet from a scholarly standpoint, they were the heart of the work

Stepping Up

Here was where the seeds Dal Newfield planted took root. Born among two-dozen stamp collectors, the Churchill Society by the mid-1980s had acquired some serious, visionary Churchillians. “If you want to do something lasting,” they said, “find a way to publish things commercial publishers won’t touch.” In 1986, launching the Churchill Literary Foundation, we set out to do just that.

It began small, with a booklet by the aforesaid Caspar Weinberger. Through it we raised support for more. By 1992 we had produced ten specialized publications, including Churchill’s The Dream and his Chartwell Bulletins—and even a series of fifty-year calendars (1940–90, and so on). The last special publication, The Churchill Companion (2013), brought the total to twenty-four. The Foundation (absorbed into The Churchill Centre after 1995) worked with publishers to reissue long outof-print books like The Malakand Field Force, Savrola, The Boer War, and the six-volume World Crisis. I even published one myself—India, Churchill’s rare book of 1931 speeches. But the question remained: how to finish the Official Biography?

Wendy Reves and the War Papers

Wendy Reves, at the 987 Churchill Conference in Dallas, our speaker Grace Hamblin at right. Wendy sponsored the three “War Papers” volumes, which kick-started the moribund project in 1992.

Fortune then smiled in the person of Wendy Reves, vivacious widow of Emery Reves, Sir Winston’s literary agent. In the 1950s, the devoted couple had hosted WSC in his old age at their Riviera villa, “La Pausa.” Emery died in 1981, but Wendy still lived there. I met Wendy at the Hotel Pierre in New York in 1986. There was no mistaking the former fashion model: smartly dressed, dark glasses, trademark black headband. She became an enthusiastic supporter.

In 1990 we began seeking to restart the document volumes, which had ended with the year 1939—tantalizingly, the eve of Churchill’s finest hour. To cover 1940–65 properly, Martin Gilbert said, would require at least six more. We passed his thoughts to Wendy—she always referred to him in French as Monsieur Geelbear. “How much will it take?” she asked. We told her. She said, “When can he start?”

Thus followed three huge document volumes, The Churchill War Papers, covered the early period of the Second World War from September 1939 through December 1941. The main publisher was W. W. Norton (Houghton Mifflin opted out). Heinemann in London tagged along, popping their logo on the spine and selling their version at twice Norton’s price, pleasing nobody.

Martin’s output, vast and wonderful as it was, did not please the sponsor. The first two volumes arrived in quick succession in 1993 and 1994. Then Martin became sidetracked again, and we did not see the third until 2000. Wendy Reves had faithfully kept her bargain, paying the bills for each (mainly secretarial and research staff). But the six-year delay exhausted her patience. “I’m done,” she declared. I recall that Martin himself did not greatly object. I think he was fairly exhausted, too.

Larry Arnn Raises the Tattered Flag

Now what? Unbeknown to us, another champion was already in the field, who would finish the job. Happily, it was somebody we knew and trusted, a man who has never let us down. So it was that Larry Arnn, by now president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, set out to finish the longest biography in history. In so doing, as Churchill said, he raised “a tattered flag found lying on a stricken field.”

The task ahead was daunting. Raw material for the remaining document volumes—thousands of papers covering 1943–65—was mainly assembled. Indeed Martin Gilbert had compiled a “wodge” of documents for almost every day of Churchill’s life. But all had to be edited into a coherent whole. Sources needed to be checked, cross-references listed, rejects weeded out, additions pondered, facts verified. A comprehensive index and set of footnotes were needed, including thumbnail biographies of every person mentioned. And Martin was not getting any younger.

So Hillsdale College arranged to buy the Gilbert Papers, to work out rights and permissions, and to publish the volumes—not with an outside publisher but through Hillsdale College Press. Martin Gilbert would remain editor, with this proviso: “If for any reason you are unable to finish it, we will.”

Dave Turrell, my former associate editor at FH, recalled the “heart-stopping moment” when we realized Dr. Arnn’s full plan: “Not only would Hillsdale produce the remaining seven document volumes. It would first go back to the beginning, reissuing all twenty-four previous volumes in a uniform edition, modestly priced within everyone’s pocketbook. Those of us waiting for new material would have to wait awhile longer. It was frustrating, but in hindsight it was the correct decision. It incidentally broke the hearts of secondhand booksellers around the world. The Churchill Documents 11–13 cost $60 each, compared to thousands for the original companions to Volume 5. (For Dave’s article, see https://bit. ly/34IAIzi.)

Hillsdale first trod “new ground” with document volume 17, Testing Times 1942, shown here with Martin Gilbert’s “wodges” from which its 1652 pages were distilled.

“History Lived and Made in Real Time”

In 2006, forty years after they had first appeared, Hillsdale reissued Volume 1, Youth 1874–1900 and its two volumes of documents. It was not until 2013 that new ground opened with The Churchill Documents, Volume 17, Testing Times, 1942. Dear Martin Gilbert died in 2015 leaving a majestic legacy of eighty-eight books about Churchill, Jewish history, and twentieth-century history. He lived to see all of his volumes in the official biography back in print and one new volume too. Testing Times bore his name as editor, and all six volumes published after his death listed him as co-editor with Larry Arnn.

Their careful attention to detail makes these books invaluable. Start with pagination: each reprint carries the same page numbers as the originals—so citations are always the same, regardless of edition. The scholarly endnotes were largely the work Hillsdale’s Churchill Fellows, students engaged in Churchill classes or research, under the supervision of Dr. Arnn and Research Director Soren Geiger. My own role was to read the manuscripts, querying points, providing new references, or possible additional material. The indexing is exhaustive, far deeper than the earlier volumes. Indexer Sheila Ryan won the American Society for Indexing Excellence 2019 Award for The Churchill Documents, Volume 21, The Shadows of Victory, January– July1945 (https://bit.ly/2EAiVzN). E-book versions of the eight narrative volumes are now available, and electronic document volumes are forthcoming.

Scores of scholars have testified to the historic value of all this labor. “We will never again have so thorough a record of any statesman’s decision-making, so vast and consequential,” wrote Eliot Cohen. “Accompanied by a full apparatus of footnotes identifying persons mentioned, correcting dates, and clarifying obscure references, the document volumes contain an extraordinary array of materials: official memoranda, correspondence, speeches, diary entries by friends (and enemies), reports, instructions, recollections, and even dinner lists.” They also have a use beyond simply research, Dave Turrell added: “They can also be read in their own right. Not only do they tell their own story, but the voices we eavesdrop on increase our understanding. They read as a radio play, where we get to hear history being lived and made in real-time.”

The End of the Beginning

Publishing the world’s longest biography would be enough for many, but it did not stop there. Simultaneously, Dr. Arnn started the Hillsdale College Churchill Project to exploit and apply the lessons of Churchill’s rich, inspiring life. “The study of statesmanship,” he says, “is central to Hillsdale’s mission, which includes cultivating the moral and spiritual values. The classics teach that we can best understand the art of statesmanship by studying those who have a reputation for it. One sees prudence, the virtue of the statesman, most clearly through the words and actions of those who pursued justice in the midst of the obstacles and necessities of political life.”

What better model for teaching statesmanship than Churchill? “His career was long, the facts so well recorded, the quality so very high. It spanned the most traumatic events in history—the largest wars, the greatest depression, the worst tyrannies, and the most rapid advancement of technology and therefore of human power. As he faced these crises, Churchill wrote with profuse detail and with great ability about his doings, thereby leaving one of the richest records of human undertaking.” Its legal structure ensures that the Churchill Project will be functioning long after all of us are gone. For that reason, I joined the team in 2014 and serve with pride. Working with Hillsdale’s bright young students is a privilege and an inspiration. A center for Churchill Studies is something I dreamed about for forty years. Dal Newfield dreamed about it too.

“A right understanding of Churchill’s record” requires deep resources. Along with the Gilbert Papers, the Project acquired the Ronald Cohen collection of Churchill essays, forewords, and contributions—Sections “B” through “G” of his Bibliography. Ron himself donated his collection of recordings, the authentic voice of Churchill, now being digitalized for online access. Other collections of Churchill books, artifacts and papers, my own included, are archived at the College or in trust for it.

These materials combine to teach statesmanship through the best teacher of modern times. The method includes national conferences, symposia, scholarships, online courses, and an endowed faculty chair. A steady flow of new publications is planned. One is an electronic version of the Cohen Bibliography, the essential reference to Churchill’s writings. We hope to do more publishing of original texts, obscure writings not seen since first publication. Most recently, the Project marshalled a battery of scholars to defend Churchill’s good name from an outburst of defamation. Suitable, I think, for a college whose motto reads, “Pursuing truth and defending liberty since 1844.”

Through these endeavors, Hillsdale is building an institution for Churchill research, scholarship, and learning. You may also subscribe, with 60,000 others, to bulletins on new articles, research papers and video resources, and announcements of free online courses and events. For details visit winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu or email this writer.

The biography is done, the work goes on, the subject is evergreen. “Great men are the ambassadors of Providence sent to reveal to their fellow men their unknown selves,” said President Calvin Coolidge. “To them is granted the power to call forth the best there is in those who come under their influence.” Here in Winston Churchill, we have the story of one man, it is true; but a man who shows us what we are, all of us, at our best.

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