The Dream
by Winston S. Churchill

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

written 1947-1948

Sunday Telegraph, 30 January 1966

included as Chapter 20 in —
Martin Gilbert
Winston S. Churchill, 1945-1965
    Volume VIII: Never Despair

July 2006


It is hard to know what to make of this item. Winston S. Churchill's mind certainly is creative and inventive, fully capable of writing a wide-awake fiction or counterfactual essay ("If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg"), and we must presume also of weaving a detailed dream or daydream from threads of the rich cloth his mind wears for everyday. Certainly also Churchill has a considerable ability to understand and empathize with political and military figures from former times as well as his own (see his biography of Marlborough and the shorter pieces in Great Contemporaries).

WSC's early ambition was driven partly by his natural wish for the approval and praise from his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, an eminent British politician during WSC's boyhood. According to WSC, such praise never came during his father's truncated lifetime. Lord Randolph (1849-1895) died when WSC (1874-1965) was a very young man, before WSC's Imperial-frontier fame was boosted into a political career at home and then into high office and eventually the highest office in the British Government.

"One foggy afternoon in November 1947", WSC was at his easel in his country home of Chartwell, painting a copy of a recently rediscovered 1886 portrait of Lord Randolph. "I turned round with my palette in my hand, and there, sitting in my red leather armchair, was my father. He looked just as I had seen him in his prime ...."

Then ensues WSC's conversation with Lord Randolph which is the substance of "The Dream". We may call it recorded daydream, or musing fiction, or an emanation from the past. It is an intriguing dialogue on British politics and on WSC's personal life, with WSC of course having the knowledge of an additional half-century of events so that it is Lord Randolph who asks the questions and WSC who does most of the exposition.

As with contemporaries and earlier historical figures, WSC's knowledge of Lord Randolph's personality as well as his political life and times is substantial and empathetic. He was very proud of his major biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill (1906). WSC grew up steeped in the affairs of the previous generation, and despite his own busy life and times, never lost interest in those preceding times. It is entirely natural that WSC would muse, or dream, or daydream about his father. "The Dream" is one result.

In portions of the dialogue, Lord Randolph is curious about WSC's adult life — has he done well, is he a professional painter? WSC answers gently and fractionally, the irony apparent only to the reader who knows that after Lord Randolph's death, WSC far surpassed him in fame and accomplishment.

WSC's adult children urged him to write down "The Dream", and so we have it. It's an entertaining little story, and you do not need to be an expert in the history of the period to enjoy it. Contrast just one perspective from 1894 with that from 1947:

RC: "Is Russia still the danger?"

WSC: "We are all very worried about her."

RC: "We always were in my day, and in Dizzy's [Disraeli's] before me. Is there still a Tsar?"

WSC: "Yes, but he is not a Romanoff. ..."

From the perspective of 1947 or later, Lord Randolph's high-Victorian horse-and-steam 1880s and early 1890s seem almost more of a piece with Marlborough's time, or Shakespeare's, or Chaucer's, than today. And even the greatest forward dreaming from 1894 would hardly dare predict the devastation of the German Wars, the social upheavals, the era of atomic power and rockets which had dawned by 1947.

From WSC's perspective in "The Dream", we have historical reminiscence and personal analysis; from Lord Randolph's, we have political-social science fiction. From our own perspective, we have — ?


© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson

The National Trust site for
Chartwell, Churchill's long-time home;
the slideshow "Things to see & do"
includes a photo of his painting studio.

Winston S. Churchill at Troynovant

Mentality at Troynovant


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