LATE in the year 1900 it suddenly became plain to some of the mystified inhabitants of the literary world that there were two Winston Churchills.
It is indeed remarkable how long the error lived which confounded Winston L. S. Churchill, war correspondent and politician, and eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill, with plain Winston Churchill, the author of ” Richard Carvel.”
The error cropped out soon after the beginning of the South African war, when the Englishman, at a place called Estcourt, took gallant part in the defence of an armored train bound to the relief of Lady-smith. It was the result of one of the sentences in the report of the action :
” Winston Churchill’s brilliant behavior is compared with the gallant action in the Tirah campaign, which won the Victoria cross for Lord Fincastle, who was also acting as a newspaper correspondent.”
Immediately some persons, who should have known better, jumped to the conclusion that this Winston Churchill was the author of a book then extremely popular in this country. It is a notable commentary on the persistency of false ideas that the two Churchills were not, in certain quarters, positively distinguished from each other until they met in Boston the middle of last December. It was an interesting meeting, as we gather from the notes of a witness.
” The young, light-haired Englishman was in bed, in his room at the Touraine, shortly after noon, when Major J. B. Pond arrived with a heavily built six-footer, smooth-shaven, dark-complexioned, a pair of merry black eyes, and a rather thick body encased in a raglan of dark gray.
“‘ Mr. Churchill, Mr. Churchill,’ said the Major. The man on the bed turned over on his side and held out his hand.
” I’m sorry to find that you are ill,’ said the Churchill in the raglan, as he caught the outstretched hand.
“‘ Nothing serious, I guess,’ said the other ; ‘ been travelling, you know. But, I say, how came you by that name?’
” The author of ‘ Richard Carvel’ smiled.
“‘The first trace of it I can find in the family,’ he said, ‘ is about 1851. It seems that there have been Winston Churchills over here for a good many years.’
“Then there was an exchange of bouquets. Winston Churchill said that he had always been looking forward with pleasure to a meeting with his namesake, and the other Churchill said something in the same strain.
“‘ I was interested when I read your first book,’ said the Englishman. ‘ Did n’t think a great deal of that book ; but the other one, “Richard Canel,” I was willing to become responsible for that.’
” Then it developed that each had been responsible for the other to a greater or less extent. For this reason it was inevitable that they should meet.”
As a matter of fact, mail for the Englishman, simply directed “Winston Churchill, Boston, Mass.,” had been sent to his name-sake’s residence on Beacon Street. Later it was told that the American met the same embarrassment in London. ” When I was staying at Brown’s Hotel,” he said to the Parliamentarian, ” I found it almost impossible to get my mail. They compelled me to sign for it personally.”
The Englishman, by the way, is the author of a romance in regard to which the London critics seem to hold an opinion similar to that which he admittedly holds in regard to the American’s first novel” The Celebrity.”
Speaking of ” The Celebrity” reminds us of the still prevalent notion that its contemptible hero is Mr. Richard Harding Davis. In fact we believe that the author was openly charged with having written the satire merely to pay a private grudge. We heard an echo of the charge as late as this year. Yet, more than two years ago Mr. Churchill, in a public letter, took pains specifically to deny the imputation. ” The Celebrity” he said, in effect, was entirely an imaginary work. No one at all resembhn the chief character had ever been met by him. So far from paying grudges, he had no grudge to pay. Indeed, the young writer grew so tender on the subject that the Colonial atmosphere of “Richard Carvel” was attributed to his desire to avoid contemporary themes. But the truth is, he completed ” The Celebrity” while temporarily short of historical material for use in the history of Richard and his Dorothy. Twice he thoroughly revised ” The Celebrity” before sending it to the publishers.
And who is this Winston Churchill? He is the son of Spalding Churchill of Maine and Emma Bell Blaine of St. Louis, and he was born in the Missouri metropolis on Nov. 10, 1871. The first sixteen years of his life were spent in his birthplace; and there, at Smith Academy, he prepared for college. The college proved to be the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
As a boy he was inclined to be uncommonly studious, but at the Naval Academy he developed a strong inclination towards athletics. It was largely owing to his energy and his enthusiasm that the cadets revived rowing. Like most other cadets,. he learned to fence expertly ; and you will find an intimate knowledge of this accomplishment in his treatment of one of the most dramatic scenes in ” Richard Carvel.” He took to horseback riding, also to golf and to tennis, in short, to all the pastimes that strengthen the body and enliven the mind. It is his devotion to physical exercise which has enabled him to work long and hard without distress.
He felt, before his graduation from Annapolis, that his place was at the writing table, not on the deck of a man-o’-war. Apropos of which he has said: ” When a man is being trained for a definite career, it helps him to make up his mind as to his tastes and abilities. If he is sure he does n’t want to do that particular thing, he must know pretty definitely what he does want to do. When he throws over a certainty for a chance his heart must be firmly set on the kind of work involved in the chance. For this reason a technical school helps some men to find their vocation better than four years at a university, where the training is general.”
In 1894 he became editor of the Army and Navy Journal. The following year he joined the staff of the Cosmopolitan at Irvington-on-the-Hudson. While work-for the magazine he took as wife Miss Mabel Harlakenden Hall of St. Louis, whose for-tune induced him to give up magazine work altogether and devote himself to the realization of his dreams.
Now if Churchill lacked either determination or genius the wealth that through marriage he became a sharer in would have have availed him little. He might have attracted some attention as a dilettante, or he might have done the things that a wealthy person alone can do establish another Anglo-Saxon Review, for example, or publish small thoughts in editions de luxe. He would have succeeded if his wife had never brought him a copper. It would have taken him longer to succeed, that is all, Art is long, and life is short only to the poor fellow who must ascend the ladder round by round. But not all the money in the world can ease the labor of the brain.
Churchill’s ambition, from the first moment that he felt the literary impulse, was to write a historical novel. Annapolis had fired his imagination. ” Seeing those old houses,” he once said, ” which used to be the scenes of the gayest and happiest social life before the Revolution they look as if the people had just gone out of them and reading the history of the town as it used to be, interested me greatly in a certain aspect of the life of the colonial planters, which had not, it seemed to me, been fully and truthfully expressed in a novel. What I wanted to do in ‘Richard Carvel’ was to give a picture of the life of colonial Mary-land and Virginia, with special reference to Annapolis, and to contrast the people who made it with the corresponding element in England. One of the things I wanted to bring out strongly was that, although the leading men in business, in professional life, and in politics, in both Maryland and Lon-don, came from the same stock, a few generations back, politically, the British had sunk into a state of gross corruption and degradation, while the Americans were men of the highest integrity and the cleanest motives, mindful of their legal and moral debt to Great Britain, but resolute not to endure more than a certain amount of injustice.”
And how do you suppose Mr. Churchill prepared for the big task of writing a historical novel? He has answered the question himself
” By visiting all the places concerned in the story, and by reading biographies, histories, memoirs, letters, old newspapers in fact, everything which could give me an insight into the life of those days, or into the character of the people like John Paul Jones and Charles Fox, whom I desired to introduce. Of course I read a great deal too much; a great many books gave me no direct help and added nothing to what I had already learned ; but I have no doubt that all this reading counted in the way of letting me into the spirit and the atmosphere and the ideas and the business methods and the modes of life and thought of those days. Of course, I took voluminous notes, and had no end of trouble to keep them arranged so that I could use them, in spite of the effort I made to keep notes on costumes in one volume, manners and customs in another, unusual words and turns of expression in another, incidents in another, character in another, history in another and so on.”
” Richard Carvel” was begun in St. Louis not long after the author’s marriage. It was written over again for the fifth time between October, 1898, and April, 1899, at a little town on the Hudson, an hour’s journey from New York. Yet it is a proof of Churchill’s zeal and industry that in those six months he visited the metropolis only five times. His habit is to work from early breakfast until one in the afternoon, and then, after luncheon, for a few hours more, after which he takes some physical exercise; and after dinner he picks up the thread of the story again. You see, his literary methods are very simple ; they mean work early and late, work done doggedly, and as scrupulously as if the keenest critic were looking over his shoulder.
The furore which ” Richard Carvel” excited is too well remembered, we think, to particularize on. The author was made a lion of everywhere, truly, and exhibited in all the gilded cages of the East. We recall that the mere announcement of his purpose to go to the theatre in New York was sufficient to insure a big audience. Not another one of our American authors whose fame is of recent acquirement, and whose inclination is to keep far from the madding crowd has been followed about by so many hero-worshippers as the author of ” Richard Carvel ” was during the twelvemonth following the publication of the book.
Was the attention justly merited? Undoubtedly. “Richard Carvel” is an extraordinarily powerful story. Its atmosphere is vivid ; its characters are excellently drawn ; its plot is skillfully laid ; its action is vigorous and delightfully varied.
” Richard Carvel ” was the first of a series of historical novels which Churchill planned just after leaving Annapolis. It has been followed lately by the second member of the series, ” The Crisis,” the writing of which occupied nearly two years. While thus engaged the author declined to be interrupted. Naturally, after bounding to the top of the ladder, anything which he might have offered would have been accepted by some publishers. ” You have no idea,” he once remarked, ” of the temptations that are put in the way of a man whose book has been accorded a popular success.” The temptations he brushed aside; he made up his mind to pursue a straight road. And wisely, for, as he argues, ” When a man makes a great reputation by a single book, and then allows succeeding books to go from his hands which do not represent the very best work of which he is capable, the public finds it out at once. No matter if there is good work in these hastily written books, people ignore them. I think it is the worst thing a man can do for his reputation to write books too fast. Of course, it is the worst possible thing he can do for his lasting reputation, which is the thing really worth working for, but what I mean is that it is the worst thing he can do in the short run as well as in the long run. Why, even speaking commercially, which is the lowest and the least and the last way in which one can look at these things, it is a fatal mistake. And I think a novelist makes a great mistake if he con-fines himself to one period or writes several books on one epoch, though it is more or less the practice to-day. I think we ought to go in more for versatility.”
Mr. Churchill is seen in New York and Boston in the winter ; in the summer he is to be found only by traveling ‘way down East In Boston, particularly, the Churchills have become very well known. There Mr. Churchill puts up at the most aristocratic clubs, and Mrs. Churchill graces the most fashionable receptions.