Thursday, November 10, 2016

Birthday: The other Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill (1871-1947)
Author, Political figure

He was born in St Louis, and attended the US Naval Academy. There he introduced eight-man crew racing and captained the team for two years. A talented writer, he edited the Army and Navy Journal after graduation, then Cosmopolitan Magazine. But by the age of 25 his first novel- serialized in a magazine- sold so well he left journalism for the life of a novelist.

His books did well- extremely well. His third novel, Richard Carvel, was published in 1899. In an America of 76 million people, it sold two million copies. Flush with success and cash, he married, moved to Cornish, New Hampshire and built a mansion.

There he received a letter from a 25-year-old British soldier-turned-journalist:

"Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both.

"He has learnt from the Press notices that Mr. Winston Churchill proposes to bring out another novel, entitled Richard Carvel , which is certain to have a considerable sale both in England and America.

"Mr. Winston Churchill is also the author of a novel now being published in serial form in Macmillan's Magazine, and for which he anticipates some sale both in England and America.

"He also proposes to publish on the 1st of October another military chronicle on the Sudan War. He has no doubt that Mr. Winston Churchill will recognise from this letter -- if indeed by no other means -- that there is grave danger of his works being mistaken for those of Mr. Winston Churchill. He feels sure that Mr. Winston Churchill desires this as little as he does himself.

"In future to avoid mistakes as far as possible, Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other works, 'Winston Spencer Churchill,' and not 'Winston Churchill' as formerly.

"He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill, and he ventures to suggest, with a view to preventing further confusion which may arise out of this extraordinary coincidence, that both Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Winston Churchill should insert a short note in their respective publications explaining to the public which are the works of Mr. Winston Churchill and which those of Mr. Winston Churchill. The text of this note might form a subject for future discussion if Mr. Winston Churchill agrees with Mr. Winston Churchill's proposition.

"He takes this occasion of complimenting Mr. Winston Churchill upon the style and success of his works, which are always brought to his notice whether in magazine or book form, and he trusts that Mr. Winston Churchill has derived equal pleasure from any work of his that may have attracted his attention."

(The British Churchill's novel- a political potboiler called Savrola- was a bust).

The American, then 28, replied:

"Mr. Winston Churchill is extremely grateful to Mr. Winston Churchill for bringing forward a subject which has given Mr. Winston Churchill much anxiety.

"Mr. Winston Churchill appreciates the courtesy of Mr. Winston Churchill in adopting the name of ‘Winston Spencer Churchill’ in his books, articles, etc.

"Mr. Winston Churchill makes haste to add that, had he possessed any other names, he would certainly have adopted one of them."

The British Churchill made a national lecture tour of America in 1900, though its financial return was disappointing and the unpopularity of the Boer War dented his anticipated war hero welcome. He probably met the American Churchill in New York, where the British Churchill was making the rounds of the great and the good (Coming out of a meeting with Mark Twain, the British Churchill expounded on their discussion to the waiting reporters at length; Twain added only, “I smoked a cigar.”)

The American Churchill joined the Cornish Art Colony of artists and writers, and served two terms in the New Hampshire legislature. Though he wrote that veteran pols thought he was there just to get material for a book, he was taken seriously enough to win the Republican nomination for governor in 1906. As the Roosevelt-Taft feud split the party, he moved to the left with his friend T.R.; in 1912- heading the “Churchill Movement”, he was the Progressive candidate for governor.

Just past forty, he withdrew from politics and took up painting, enjoying some renown as a landscape watercolorist. In the early years of the Wilson presidency, he rented his home to the President as a summer retreat.

The American Churchill was shaken by the carnage of World War I; a century later, it is hard to imagine the impact such extraordinary scale of death and destruction had on the people of the time. He toured the European front in 1917 and wrote a book on it- his only nonfiction volume; by 1919 a crisis of faith- and, perhaps, also a sense that his name was permanently eclipsed by his British counterpart- prompted him to give up writing. In 1940 he published a book on religion which, unpromoted, went unnoticed. Late in life he remarked that his astonishingly successful career seemed to have been that of another man, in another life. The Cornish house burned in 1923; Churchill and his wife lived out their lived out their lives increasingly forgotten by the public. They had three children; one son became a successful wine critic and writer.

Winston Churchill died in Winter Park, Florida in March, 1947. His alter ego, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and be named the first honorary American citizen, died in January, 1965, arguably, the most famous man in the world.

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