Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Churchill as a Writer af Prose

A. N. Gupta

Churchill as a Writer of Prose

By Prof. A. N. GUPTA, M.A.
(Govt. Hamidia College, Bhopal)

Few outside England know Churchill as a writer of prose and a literary craftsman of a very high order. He is widely known all over the world as a politician, statesman, parliamentarian, Prime Minister and a successful and astute war strategist. He is remembered as an Officer in the British Army who saw service in India, Egypt and other parts of the world. This year’s award of the Nobel Prize for Literature has spotlighted him as a litterateur, a literary artist, who all through his political career was doing something or other to distinguish himself in the realm of letters. He is discovered as the author of about thirty-four books which include several volumes of original historical research and an early novel. His literary career dates to 1892, almost the same time as he began his career in the Army, when his first book ‘Savrola’ was published. His second work was ‘The Story of Malakand Field Force’ (1898) which contained his commentary on warfare and exhibited his great power of recapturing with the gift of apt phrase the day to day events of war and original conceptions of military tactics. He wrote an authoritative biography of his father Lord Randolph and his grandfather the Duke of Marlborough. The world should indeed feel obliged to him for vindicating the character of the Duke of Marlborough, so adversely criticised by Macaulay, and placing him in a true light. Then came to be published ‘the Story of River War’ (1899) ‘London to Ladysmith’ (1900) and ‘Pan Hamilton’s March’, which are some of the most important examples of his war correspondence. His other important works are ‘The World Crisis’ (1923-29), ‘Unrelenting Struggle’ and ‘Into Battle’ (1941), ‘My Early Life’ and ‘Great Contemporaries’ (1937) and the five volumes of the story of the Second World War.

Churchill’s prose works, for the sake of convenience, may be divided into three classes. First come his works written in the quiet precincts of his study, where every point was recollected with care and stated with deftness. ‘Lord Randolph Churchill’ (1906) and ‘Marlborough: His Life and Times’ in four volumes (1933-38) belong to the first class and are characterised by a design and a measured pattern, and a particular point of view. To the second category belong his diaries and notes written in haste amongst his multifarious engagements. ‘The World Crisis’ and the five volumes of the Second World War come in the second category. The third category comprises his collections of speeches delivered at different places and on different occasions. ‘Unrelenting Struggle’ and ‘Into Battle’ should also be placed in the third category. It should not be forgotten here that the second and the third type of his prose works, as different from the first, obviously have the defects of casualness, haste and absence of care in their composition, having been written in an environment ofbreathless speed and carking anxiety.

The society he lived in and wrote for was of Balfour and Chamberlain, Rosebery and Morley, Asquith and Curzon. It was an England of persons who wavered between the might of Imperialism and the suspicion of Liberalism. No definite decision was made by Englishmen either wholly for this ideology or for that. They were torn by a conflict of the opposing ideologies of Imperialism and Liberalism. Churchill was an out and out Imperialist, one who was in the line of Kipling who believed in building an empire and maintaining by force of arms the one already built, and this tendency of his mind has come to be clearly reflected in his literary activities as well. “My thought was much more in accord with Kipling than with Bernard Shaw,” he remarked after the award of the Nobel Prize. “On the other hand Mr. Kipling never thought much of me, whereas Mr. Shaw often expressed himself in the most flattering terms.” The genesis of his prose style may thus be traced to the rhetorical flair of the Victorians, although Morley’s ‘Compromise’ had created a deep impression on his mind. He lacks the magnificent sobriety and tranquil poise of Morley and the profound wisdom and sharp wit of Shaw.

Style is the thinking out of language into words. It was Newman who once declared that thought and expression are inextricably bound up with each other. Style is the body to which thought is the soul, and through which it expresses itself. “Of the soul the body form doth take; for soul is form and doth the body make.” We can arrive at a definite conception of Churchill’s prose craftsmanship, if only we examine those elements of his prose-style which have gone to make him one of the finest writers of Modern English prose and one of the greatest orators of all time. Churchill is A1 man of England; the broadcasts of his speeches are heard with attention throughout the English-speaking world, not only because they emanate from the lips of the British Prime Minister and represent the British political point of view, but hearing them and noting the strange twists and turns and the niceties and subtle nuances of his speech, the average man’s sense of form is satisfied. In these times of great emotional stress, the prose of Churchill grew in abundance in the form of his speeches delivered in the British Parliament and in his writings. All these emerged from his heart in a continual outpouring of white-hot patriotic sentiment, like molten lava. Churchill spoke because he must; he wrote because he had to.

“It is the victors who must search their hearts”, he said towards the end of his speech on May 13, 1945, “in their glowing hours and be worthy of the nobility of the immense forces that they wield.” These are words most relevant to our purpose. We must, indeed search Churchill’s heart, dive into the dark corners of his soul, limn out the intricacies of his innermost being–for that is the process most successful–in order to dwell upon his prose craftsmanship. For Churchill puts himself into his words. He lays his soul bare in them. His style is that of the man. You cannot separate his words from their context, without completely distorting the sense of the passage, in whole or in parts. Behind his passages it is not difficult to note the contending forces fighting in his breast. Throughout the speech from which we have just now quoted, the two contradictory powers of the usual Churchillian arrogance and his pose of evangelicalism are struggling to get mastery over his heart. As is quite natural, arrogance overpowers evangelicalism, and the speech shows the same old Conservative, arrogant, expressing his wish, declaring his purpose and giving an assurance to the subject people of an alien country.

Let us not forget that Churchill is never good at hypocrisy or cant. It is difficult for him to conceal his feelings. They must be out. Churchill is a die-hard Tory. He is the perfect specimen of racial arrogance. His words are marked by an antagonism of the bitterest type and an aloofness which is killing. The following sentence from one of his speeches is indicative of his sense of racial superiority: “The British Commonwealth stood more united and more effectively powerful now than at any other time.” Like all imperialists and Capitalists, Churchill takes the gains and losses as a divine dispensation. Such and such a thing happened because God willed it. England had won the War in Europe along with U.S.A. and Russia; Germany had been defeated. Not that Germany was weak or England was strong, but the Fates were on the side of England. England escaped Germany’s fate only by a fortuitous chain of circumstances. Note Churchill’s frankness of speech when he says: “We nave never failed to recognise the immense superiority of power of the United States in the rescue of France and the defeat of Germany”, or, “Certainly we are in a far better state to cope with the problems and perils of the future than we were five years ago.”

Churchill knows the art of working up a climax. He is a past master in it. Examples of his artistic quality are many in the collection of his speeches. Here is an example of a fine climax: “In the past we had a light which flickered; in the present we have a light which flames; and in the future there will be a light which shines over all land and sea.”

Churchill is a great master of words. He uses just those words which are adequate to his purpose. Restrained when he desires to keep himself in check, he is rhetorical and flamboyant, when the occasion demands it. Churchill’s imagination sometimes strikes a deeper note, it takes a wider sweep. His writings and speeches are not tuned to a single strain. His work is a mosaic of many patterns. Churchill speaks like a poet, almost in a frenzy, in the following: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Can there be words more descriptive of war than this? These words were uttered at a time of grave danger. They did their work, evoking a spirit of bravado and wild courage among the troops abroad and civilians at home. Another memorable speech in the same strain was obviously meant to inspire in the minds of the English people the desire to ‘scorn delights’ and achieve fame: “Let us so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘this was their greatest hour’. Fight on, for the glorious path of fame burn brightly in the distance for the brave.”

Art, it is said, lies in concealing art. The endeavour of the artist is always towards revealing infinity in a grain of sand. In his work more is meant than meets the eye. This is possibly achieved by means of suggestion. Sometimes a word or two, or a phrase, itself not pregnant with any rich feeling, by its power of suggestion, revives a thousand memories, which assail us by association on reading them. Churchill’s style shows this quality in a remarkable degree. His words stir the depths of our innermost being. One or two examples may be given here: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” praise the airmen, and “Never did so mocking a fantasy obsess the mind of mortal man” suggest a reference to the sadist tendency and demoniac insanity of Hitler.

During a period of war a spirit of national glorification sweeps over the country from one corner to the other. Leaders in a country shake the souls of their countrymen, to rouse them to make glorious sacrifices. Their spirits are raised to the highest pitch. So great is the enthusiasm that nations fight blindly even in the face of defeat. Germany was on the brink of a colossal tragedy, but not even a short while earlier did the German war-lords sound a note of futility, for that would have been fatal. To inspire their fighting hordes, words of encouragement were necessary, Churchill was leading England through the most troublous times in its history. He proved worthy of the task entrusted to him. Clouds loomed large on the horizon. But Churchill never lost faith in victory. An unshaken idealism kept Churchill cheerful, in the hour of danger. And the contagion spread all around. This note of idealism never forsakes Churchill: “In the hour of extreme danger men’s minds penetrate to the heart of things. In the flash of bursting bombs they see a vision of the eternally precious things of life.”

Other qualities of Churchill’s style, which entitle him to a high rank as a speaker and writer of English prose, are: the quotable and memorable quality of phrases, even lines, from his speeches; their reminiscent character, (sometimes there is an echo of Brooke, at another time a turn from Shakespeare, or even from a memorable speech of one of his contemporaries,–for Churchill’s mind assimilated a good deal of what he had read, and he read widely as is indicated by his wonderful command over the English language), the originality of his vituperation, and the array of fine words and phrases, which are brought in again and again to achieve marvellous effects in speech.

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