February 5, 2015

“Everybody is reading it…”

Winston thought that his brother Jack would follow him into the Army but his mother knew that he would not pass the medical examination because of his eyesight, and she could not provide him with the necessary allowance. She had other plans for her second son “He will go to Germany for a year, learn bookkeeping and German, and one of these days make a fortune.” (At his mother’s insistence Jack later became a stockbroker.)

“Everybody is reading it, and I only hear it spoken of with praise.”

Meanwhile her elder son was pursuing a military and literary career in India, while laying the groundwork for his eventual entry into political life in England. He wanted to write a life of Garibaldi and a short and dramatic History of the American Civil War, but while The Story of the Malakand Field Force was being edited and published, he worked on his first and only novel, Savrola. He later recalled that his fellow officers had made suggestions for “stimulating the love interest which I was not able to accept. But we had plenty of fighting and politics, interspersed with such philosophisings as I was capable of.” He said later “consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it.”

The Malakand was received with much praise, which pleased Churchill greatly. “The reader must remember,” he wrote in My Early Life, “I had never been praised before. The only comments which had ever been made upon my work at school had been ‘Indifferent,’ ‘Untidy,’ ‘Slovenly,’ ‘Bad,’ ‘Very bad,’ etc. Now here was the great world with its leading literary newspapers and vigilant erudite critics, writing whole columns of praise!”

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One letter that particularly pleased him came from the future King Edward VII: “I have read (Malakand) with the greatest possible interest and I think the descriptions and language generally excellent. Everybody is reading it, and I only hear it spoken of with praise.” He went on to say that he thought Winston had a good chance to win the Victoria Cross and expressed the hope that Churchill did not intend to leave the Army in order to go into politics.

That was indeed exactly what the young subaltern did intend, but first he had to win more glory. As his son later phrased it. ‘Like Antony and Napoleon before him, Churchill ardently aspired for action on the Nile.” Winston urged his mother: “You must work Egypt for me…have no scruples but worry right and left and take no refusal.” Jennie went to Egypt but had little success advocating for her son as well as facing complications in her own love life.

His fate in Egypt depended directly on Lord Kitchener, later a colleague, but at that time no admirer of Churchill nor his book on the Indian frontier. “It was,” Churchill later said, “a case of dislike before first sight.”

Because time was running out on him and Kitchener intended to advance on Khartoum in August, Churchill left India in June to plead his own case in London.

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