09 July 2020

Winston Churchill's Last Words

Last night I finished Gretchen Rubin's Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill.

His mother was to eventually marry a man three years younger than him. As a young man Churchill’s father wrote him a letter in which he said, "I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle useless unprofitable life you have had during your schooldays & later months, you will become a mere social wastrel .... and you will degenerate into a shabby unhappy & futile existence."

Whether because of or in spite of this fine bit of parental coaching, Churchill’s life was remarkable. He did, said, and wrote dozens – hundreds – of things, any one of which would define a lesser life.

His life spanned the presidencies of US Grant and LBJ. He was born before the use of electricity, the telephone, the radio or the automobile. In 1898, he fought in the last British cavalry charge to use lances as weapons. He pioneered the concept and development of the tank and the British Air Force and wrote “Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted. Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.” He was given to excess. After spending an evening with him, someone wrote, “We had two lovely films after dinner … Winston managed to cry through all of them, including the comedy.” He once traveled on holiday with 800 pounds of luggage. He escaped from prison as a soldier, escaped death half a dozen times, was prime minister twice, was a brave warrior who defeated Hitler, and a casual racist who insulted Gandhi, never attended university and yet won a Nobel Prize for literature (he was impossibly prolific: his papers weighed 15 tons and he created nearly 500 paintings), was given to excess (FDR said of him, “Winston has fifty ideas a day and three or four are good” and after being ousted from office after WWII, in the space of two weeks he drank 96 bottles of champagne while quaffing six or seven whiskies and soda and three brandies a day), was a polo champion, a fencing champion, on a book tour in the US was introduced by Mark Twain, and during his life met fellow luminaires like Charlie Chaplin and Prince Charles (Diana was a distant cousin), Haile Selassie, Keynes, JFK, Nixon, Einstein and HG Wells.

He died at 90 on the same date that his father had died. I don’t know if after such a grand life it was inevitable or incredible that his last words were, "I'm so bored with it all."

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