“Winston was always a lover of animals – he even reportedly said one Christmas dinner ‘you carve [the goose] Clemmie, he was a friend of mine’” I didn’t expect this from Churchill. So humanizing. He walked right up to me with this quote. And, now, into this blog space.
This remark was posted by the Chartwell, Kent Twitter account.
Chartwell was the family home of Winston & Clementine (Clemmie) from 1922 until his death in January 1965. The country estate, in South East England, enticed Winston with its “extensive views over the Weald of Kent.” Weald is Old English for woodland. I’m charmed just by the word!
Winston’s portrait (shown here) hangs over the fireplace of what looks to be a study or living room. Done by Oswald Birley (or Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley 1880-1952), it feels as if the “public” veneer of the man was washed off and the human was revealed. The image presents a somber soul, neither about to give a speech, confront a foe, inspire an audience or engage a dinner guest. Birley was a friend of Winston’s which might speak to the portrait’s quiet accessibility. He also gave Winston some painting advice.
Winston was known for being assailed by a ‘Black Dog’ (i.e. depressive mood). This is the name Churchill gave to “the prolonged fits of depression from which he suffered.” I’ve also seen it described as despair and melancholy which are more appealing and accurate to my sensibility of his predicament. (His inner situation, so to speak.) He confessed that he never stood too near the edge of a train platform. Candid, startling admission don’t you think? His Black Dog was kept away, he felt – or knew firsthand – by painting and brick laying, “200 bricks and 2,000 words a day.”
I’ve since read (in a Wikipedia entry) that Churchill only used this name (in writing) in a 1911 letter to his wife. If you see the 2017 film, Darkest Hour, you will hear Winston speak of this Black Dog.
A Man for All Seasons: The Art of Winston Churchill, an exhibit of some 24 of his paintings along with photographs are on display in Palm Beach, FL for a month from Dec 2017-Jan 14th 2018. The National Churchill Museum had this to say about Churchill’s oil painting:
“Winston Churchill was 40 when he began to paint. In June of 1915, shortly after he was forced to resign his position as First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, he picked up a paint- box belonging to his young nephew, John Spencer-Churchill. It was the start of a life-long passion. Over the next 45 years, Churchill went on to create more than 570 works of art. It was a “joy ride in a paint-box,” as he described it.”
Joy ride in a paint-box – Perfect depiction, isn’t it? He could have said something more befitting his background or station in life but joy ride says it all.
When my husband Kevin sat down at a piano left by previous owners in his family’s new home, he felt much the same way. He was five or six at the time and his mother figured the “kids can bang around on it.” And while others were playing in the backyard, Kevin was playing, or figuring out how to play, before dashing outside to join his friends. Without hesitation he spent hours lost in the music he found in the keys.
Here he is, decades later, warming up for a gig in Florida.
Since making this entry I’ve ordered and started reading the first two volumes of Churchill’s The Second World War. I’m reading to experience Churchill’s writing style, his word choices, and, yes, his view of the events he experienced. I will admit that wading through the post-WWI years (V. I) of peace treaties, economic devastation, and pervasive misery among the victors and vanquished is sadly fascinating.
And I appreciate learning about Churchill’s approach to history as proposed in John Keegan’s introduction to The Gathering Storm (book 1, events leading up to WWII):
‘Like Clarendon and Macaulay, he saw history as a branch of moral philosophy. Indeed, he gave his history a Moral. Its phrases have become some of the most famous words he pronounced – “In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Goodwill.’
After all, if our catalogued time here on earth is not viewed with a sense of ‘moral philosophy,’ then we’re left with a kind of chaotic meaninglessness. It is better, I think, to give context to our actions, purpose to our goals.
to be continued…
Churchill Photo: NT / Nick Dougan