25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 35

The Early Life of Winston Churchill

Feu the task of writing autobiography Mr. Winston Churchill is wonderfully well equipped. In 'the first place he is an artist in letters, in-the second place he• is an artist in life. Words are for him the precious material of a delicate craft days are the still more pretious, because'more.strictly limited, material out of which to construct a fabric of romance, adventure and -achievement. If he is sometimes prodigal of words he has sufficient store of them to afford the extrava- gance, while of days he has practised so careful an economy that it is impossible to. believe that he has ever wasted an hour. This does not ' mean that he has ever thought or found it necessary to spurn delights in order to live laborious days, but that- in- the intervals Of labour he has pursued pleasure with the same determination that lie has applied to more serious quests, that his pursuit has been rewarded by the same success-and that for him labour itself has been

also a term of delight. -

His artistry in Words was never more apparent than in the present: volanite.- His admiration for Gibbon has not led him into committing Gibbon's error of describing his childhood in periods, better suited to chronicling the decline of Rome. Ile can assuma the grand manner, not only better, when the occasion demands it, but in this record of his own early years he is not afraid to employ a prose that may be called conversational, and thus succeeds in one of the most difficult tasks in literature, reproducing on paper the sound of the living voice. At the age of twenty- four be quite unexpectedly received an invitation to call upon Lord Salisbury. Gibbon would have written, The reader may imagine with what eagerness I assented, and with what emotion I contemplated an interview with time leading statesman of the age." Mr. Churchill writes, " I replied, as the reader will readily surmise, • Will a duck swim,' or words to that effect."

It is the duty of a critic to criticize and perhaps Mr. Churchill lays himself open to the charge of occasionally allowing the conversational to degenerate into slang, and the plain state.- ment to become the commonplace. To express satisfaction he writes in one passage : That was the stuff ! " which is not only bad, modern slang, but may be unintelligible, and we hope will be, to future generations who will certainly read Mr. Churchill's book. "There is nothing like the dawn" is a sentence which a great writer may be excused for dictating, but not for failing to delete.

These are very minor smudges on a very magnificent canvas, and its magnificence is mainly due to the fact that the author has enjoyed writing it as much as he enjoyed living it, and that he is able to convey his enjoyment to the reader who shares it with him to the full. Into an age of introspection, Freudian complexes, doubt and despair, Mr. Churchill comes like a great wind blowing through a little window into a musty, over-furnished room. " Elizabethan " is an epithet that is often used carelessly and usually wrongly, but certainly since Sir Walter Raleigh there has not appeared upon the English stage another character that has played so great and vivid a part there and has displayed so many and such various gifts, as has Mr. Churchill since he made his first speech in the promenade of the Empire Music Hall nigh forty years ago.

It is to be hoped that many copies of this book will be presented as prizes before the Christmas holidays, and that schoolmasters will not be deterred from this duty by the fact that Mr. Churchill was far frcm being an exemplary schoolboy-. The early chapters indeed are the least successful, for Mr. Churchill's brush paints sunshine better than shadow and he cannot look back upon his childhood or his school days without remembering that they formed the only period in his life during which he was unhappy.

The book should be given as a prize because of the lessons it contains. The first of these is that life is a very glorious business, full of romance and colour, of danger and glory. The second is that these precious things must be sought for, that only unremitting endeavour and persistent toil can win them The courage never to submit or yield And what is else not to be overcome."

The story of how this bumptious subaltern determined to take part in the Soudanesc campaign and how Lord Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief, determined that he should not, and how the subaltern defeated the Commander- in-Chief, after the Prime Minister had failed to do so, is one that should go down to legend with those of David and Goliath, and Jack the Giant Killer.

And the third thing to be learnt is that there is nothing common or unclean, that a healthy appetite for life, however keen the intellect that lies behind it, can find sufficient matter for digestion whether in the council chamber of the Prime Minister or in the mess of a cavalry regiment. When Gibbon served for a short period with the Hampshire militia he wrote : " The loss of so many busy and idle hours was not compensated by any elegant pleasure ; and my temper was insensibly soured by the society of our rustic officers."

Mr. Churchill is incapable of such a reflection. Wherever he went he made friends. Whatever was the business to hand, whether politics or polo, he threw himself passionately into it.

Charles Fox, the statesman whom in many ways he most resembles, "once travelled from Paris to Lyons with the express purpose of buying waistcoats, and during the whole journey talked of nothing else." Mr. Churchill is capable of similar ephemeral enthusiasms, which fill dull days with colour and lend interest to idle moments. He congratulates himself on having devoted five compulsorily inactive days on the North-west frontier to learning to drink and to appre- ciate whisky. Hidden in the disused part of a coal mine during his escape from the Boers, the rats who shared his hiding place and devoured his candles while he slept, seemed to 1 " rather nice little beasts."

There is only one serious misstatement in these pages. The author asserts that the Harrow songs are better than the songs of Eton. Etonians, however, will forgive him, for the statement is clearly based on ignorance ; and forgiving, they will regret that he was not sent to a school which might have proved to him more congenial. We should then perhaps have had a chapter on Eton us admirable and as happy as

every other chapter in the book. Du Fr COOPER.