“If we can stand up to him, all Europe will be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”
I just sent my brother Peter a copy of Defender of the Realm, the final book in the wonderful trilogy called “The Last Lion.” Written by William Manchester (volume three is co-authored by Paul Reid), this astonishing series traces the legendary life of Winston Churchill, surely one of the most amazing writers and speakers of the 20th century. Before posting the book to Peter, I took a peek at the book’s opening, which explores at length Winston’s wonderful way with words. A few tidbits to inspire us all:
Winston disliked high-flown prose and verbosity. He felt that big words should not be used when small words would do and saw the inability to express thoughts concisely as a form of laziness. He was a fan of Fowler’s Modern English Usage and once sent a copy to Buckingham Palace.
Winston crafted his broadcasts and speeches with enormous care. While they always sound thoroughly modern, they are rooted in the classics. He studied Cicero and Gibbon. He also read and memorized chunks of Shakespeare throughout his life. Study the metrical rhythm of many of his speeches and you’ll find echoes of the Bard.
Winston often played and worked at the same time. He didn’t create his speeches sitting in his study surrounded by books. Instead, with the Blue Danube playing, he would sometimes waltz around a room alone. While gliding and sliding, he would think up phrases to use in upcoming speeches. He also liked to compose in the bathtub!
Winston had an amazing memory. He could recite whole poems, the lyrics to countless songs, and could quote long passages of the Bible by heart.
Winston would often test out his prose. He would try out different phrases or words over dinner with friends, using different adjectives or different emphases to test their rhythms and hear how they sounded.
Winston created every word of every speech. No committees patched together his prose and no speechwriters burned the midnight oil thinking up things for him to say. Bravo, Winnie, bravo! Write on.