Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Posting in New Feature: A History of Inspiration
Photo Courtesy of Canva, Traveler1116
I discovered Winston Churchill my sophomore year of high school, courtesy of a free period roaming the library when I came across the first of many biographies I would eventually read. The biographies led me to a dusty four volume set of the A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Churchill published in 1956. My parents kept the volumes, each adorned with a tattered, faded dust jacket, in our tiny living room bookshelf next to the fireplace. My interest deepened after William Manchester’s publication of the first volume of a three-part biography titled The Last Lion, published in 1983.
Interestingly, he fascinated me not only for his bulldog defense of Britain as Prime Minister during World War II, but because of the incredibly diverse narrative arc of his life. While born to great privilege (see Blenheim Palace, place of his birth in 1874), Churchill grew up incredibly self-conscious, lonely and bullied. As a child he sported a lisp, an extremely fragile body and profoundly distant parents, including his mother, Jennie Jerome, an American heiress from New York. He once described her as shining “for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly – but at a distance.” He experienced even more profound loneliness in Military School at Harrow. He memorized Macaulay’s “The Lays of Ancient Rome” in its entirety, 1,200 lines, in part to impress his father, Randolph, the Duke of Marlborough. He earned the school’s Declamation Prize for the prodigious effort, but not the attention he so craved from his father.
Churchill earned his stripes as a soldier, statesmen, member of parliament, cabinet member, writer, journalist, war hero, painter, orator, and bricklayer. He won a Nobel prize for Literature in 1953, "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values." He built goldfish ponds on the grounds of his home, Chartwell, many during the Wilderness period of his life. Winston claimed his marriage to Clementine was one of the greatest achievements of his life.
Churchill inspires because of the way he attacked life. He harnessed not only his great leadership abilities in roles from First Lord of the Admiralty to Chancellor of the Exchequer to Prime Minister (1940-45, 1951-1955.) This sliver of a post cannot do justice to his many, varied and profound accomplishments.
Churchill was not without fault and epic failures, including his anachronistic stance on India and a racial worldview that was even out of monumental step at the time. He suffered a humiliating defeat during the campaign in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli in World War I -- not to mention electoral and political defeats, including losing his post as First Lord of the Admiralty in World War I. Before his ascension to Prime Minister in wartime England in May 1940, many believed his career over, having spent the better part of the 1930’s in the political wilderness.
My inspiration comes from the awe-inspiring breadth of his accomplishments. His interest in painting underscores a creative mind which appeared to rarely have been idle or at rest. We know that statement is not wholly true as Churchill suffered from deep depressive episodes, he would call "black dog" for long periods of time. It may well be one reason he pursued painting.
He took up painting later in life at forty. He painted over 550 pieces during his lifetime and sold none of them, preferring to gift them to others. One of those paintings, “The Goldfish Pond”, presented to his bodyguard, Sergeant Edmund Murray, as a gift sold for 357,000 BP or $473,000 U.S. in 2017 at a Sotheby’s auction.
Ultimately, his efforts to defend his “tiny island nation” in WWII and to “never, ever, ever give up” echoes sentiments we can apply on a micro level to our own lives in pursuit of our profound dreams. His most famous quote might just be: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” You might not have to defend the island nation that is your home, but the urge to never surrender in your pursuit of whatever it is you are after stirs us at a very visceral level. Never give up!